The News Is Fake, the Anger Is Real

Anger, misdirected, can wreak all kinds of havoc on others and ourselves. It also primes a person for misinformation. Here is how to lower the temperature.

The News Is Fake, the Anger Is Real

You read the news; it boils your blood. You take to social media and it stokes the rage. Next thing you know you’re firing off inflammatory posts to soon-to-be-former friends. Maybe it feels like you’re just letting off steam, but anger, when misdirected, can wreak havoc both inside your body and outside in your community. Daily headlines illustrate the worst that can happen when anger goes unchecked.

Anger is triggered by feeling that something is unfair, that you are threatened, victimized or you feel helpless or inadequate. Some people react to stress with anger. When you’re angry, your amygdala, the seat of emotion in the brain, pumps your body full of hormones to prepare it for a fight-or-flight response. It responds automatically to threats, both real and perceived, even before the conscious brain does. The hormone cortisol quickens your pulse and raises your blood pressure to ready you for battle. It also makes you vulnerable to fake news.

Anger Primes the Brain for Misinformation 

Researchers found that when they deliberately made their subjects angry, they were more receptive to misinformation if it coincided with previously held beliefs. Angry people were also more confident in the source of misinformation and quicker to come to erroneous judgments. It’s a quirk of human cognition that people remember what upsets them, and what they remember, they assume is true. It’s also the information – or misinformation – they are more likely to spread. More so than through algorithms, people bond over what upsets them.

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The Intelligence Trap

Sometimes, intelligent people do stupid things.

David Robson W.W. Norton

This has nothing to do with intelligence. As David Robson points out in The Intelligence Trap, even very smart and educated people can be “trapped” by their own preconceived notions. Even Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle was susceptible to fake news. He believed fairies existed and when he saw a photograph of what looked like fairies, he used logical-sounding arguments to persuade himself and others that fairies were real and this was proof. He selected the information that supported his belief while ignoring other, contradictory information. This is “confirmation bias.” It’s akin to “motivated reasoning,” which leads people to dismiss what doesn’t fit preconceived notions. Coming across information that confirms your bias triggers a rush of dopamine, so you actually feel pleasure. You’re rewarded for seeking it out. Guard against drawing erroneous conclusions by trying to debunk your own premises.

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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

In an ideal world, people’s opinions would evolve as more facts become available.

Elizabeth Kolbert The New Yorker

The Dunning-Kruger effect is another cognitive flaw whereby people overestimate their knowledge of a subject. Often experts come to rely more upon intuition instead of carefully analyzing a situation, which leads to errors in judgment. The FBI has a protocol in place to avoid these types of errors. Being aware of the ways in which you can trap yourself within intellectual bias helps to prevent it from happening. Forewarned is forearmed.

Social Media Is the Perpetual Emergency Channel 

Social media can raise your pulse too – it’s an effect Cambridge Analytica exploited when running their campaigns for pro-Brexit and political clients, although a divide-and-conquer strategy for politicians is as old as human history.

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Mindf*ck

Cambridge Analytica broke new ground in online psychological warfare. The battle it started continues today.

Christopher Wylie Random House

Another tactic disinformation professionals use is to flood a platform or multiple platforms with so much disinformation that it drowns out the truth, and viewers, not knowing what to believe, disbelieve everything and everyone. It’s a problem that will only grow.

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The Supply of Disinformation Soon Will Be Infinite

In the old days, humans created propaganda, but now robots can do it just as well.

Renee DiResta The Atlantic

The impact that pervasive unreality within the information space will have on liberal democracies is unclear. If, or when, the flooding of the discourse comes to pass, our trust in what we read and who we are speaking with online is likely to decrease.

Renee DiResta

Complicating this scenario is the fact that what you think you witness on video may not always be true. Terrorist groups and other parties have the technological ability to manufacture video “deepfakes,” something your eyes and ears can’t help but believe. Recognizing the link between fake news and the potential to incite violence, Twitter purged 70,000 disinformation accounts from its site. Facebook banned accounts proliferating the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory associated with violence at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021. While artificial intelligence (AI) proliferates disinformation across multi-channels, it also holds promise for recognizing and guarding against the spread of deepfakes.

Read more about distinguishing conspiracy theories from facts here

Conflict Is a Hot Commodity

According to veteran journalist Matt Taibbi, the news media’s “job number one” is to addict its audiences to conflict and hate. Looking at audiences as consumers rather than citizens is problematic for democracies that rely upon an informed electorate. Media markets are fractured into siloed audiences with no common understanding of the news. 

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Hate Inc.

Veteran political journalist Matt Taibbi says the news is a con, and you’re the mark.

Matt Taibbi OR Books

Legal and behavioral economics scholar Cass Sunstein explains in #Republic that because social media feeds you suggestions based on what you already like, platforms can trap viewers into “prisons of their own design,” more commonly known as echo chambers. For businesses based on viewers, conflict messages drive clicks. 

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#Republic

How can social media and democracy best interact?

Cass R. Sunstein Princeton University Press

But conflict leads to divisions and antagonism that can be exploited and misdirected. It’s easy to see how polarized anger spills into the streets and threatens self-governance. It can also spill into the workplace. Don’t let this happen. 

Lowering the Temperature at Work 

When the world at large is divided, it’s inevitable that divisions may intrude at work. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Conflict at work eats into productivity, creates secrecy and resentments and most importantly, erodes trust. Without trust, co-workers see diverse viewpoints as threatening. Don’t confront anger with anger; it will likely make things worse. Deliberately strive not to say things in a way you know another will take personally.

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Anger Management

Control angry, self-destructive behavior by reprogramming your assumptions and perceptions.

Peter Favaro New Page Books

De-escalate tense situations by being diplomatic about how you say things. Just listening with respect and empathy will go a long way to cooling heated situations. Beware of bullies who use “predatory anger” to control others.

Many angry predatory people have a difficult time accepting responsibility for the consequences of what they do. Nothing is ever their fault. This is called blame externalization.

Peter Favaro

When it comes to politics, pick up a few pointers from the Swiss, known for their cool-headed neutrality.

Also know that, generally speaking, “free speech rights” are not protected in private companies unless related to work conditions. Companies can avoid political T-shirts and other apparel with a carefully worded dress code that applies equally to everyone. Employees have a right to express their personal views on social media on their own time and computer, but it’s prudent to have a clear policy in case someone’s personal posts have a detrimental effect on a company’s reputation. This might cover video or posts that go viral.

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How to Manage Conflict

Conflict between workers can be a positive sign: It shows they care.

Peg Pickering Career Press

When it comes to politics, keep in mind that people are often quite emotionally invested. Create an atmosphere of safety in which to discuss conflicts. Be compassionate but stick to the facts. Look for solutions and identify common ground together. Remember all effective communication begins with listening.

Kick the Anger Habit

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, says humans have “two minds,” a thinking and a feeling mind. When the amygdala hijacks the brain, ideally, your neocortex, the seat of reason, quickly catches up and reins in your impulses. Part of building emotional intelligence is recognizing your emotions when they arise in order to manage, not suppress, them.

Knowing something is right ‘in your heart’ is a different order of conviction – somehow a deeper kind of certainty – than thinking so with your rational mind.

Daniel Goleman

Rage, says Goleman, is a challenging emotion because it can feel exhilarating. Distractions, solitude and exercise are all good ways to counterbalance anger.

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Emotional Intelligence

Your IQ is only 20% of your success. Emotions play a much bigger role. How do you feel about that?

Daniel Goleman Bantam

Anger is natural, and everyone gets angry occasionally, although for some people anger is their default emotion. But chronic anger leads to ill health, relationship troubles and bad choices that sometimes result in violence. In addition, chronic anger – anger you can’t manage – can also hurt your cognitive ability, disrupting short-term memory and memory-making. Cortisol lowers serotonin, a hormone that makes you feel happy, leaving you more vulnerable to pain and anger, and more prone to depression or aggressive behavior. Consider the sources for your anger, cultivate respect for others and give up trying to control your environment unreasonably.

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The Anger Habit

To avoid self-defeating outbursts and kick the anger habit, substitute reason for rage.

Carl Semelroth and Donald E. P. Smith Sourcebooks, Inc.

Develop mindfulness methods to increase your own self-awareness of your emotions, and when you feel agitated, take a deep breath. It really works.

What’s next?

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Stress

The pressure’s on. Here’s how to deal with it before it crushes you.

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Cognitive Biases

Review the steps you can take to prevent being a target of a disinformation campaign:

For more on managing conflict:

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Avoiding drama in the workplace boosts your performance and your health.

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The Coward’s Guide to Conflict

If you are hiding under the table instead of facing a conflict, come on out and learn how to fight fairly and finally.

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Uncivil Agreement

Americans may be social animals, but they don’t have to act like political sheep.

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