By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The issue of "fake news" has been in the news -- the actual news -- a lot lately. The ease and speed of sharing via social networks has made it common for fake stories to be accepted, trusted, and passed around. One story, for example, tells of Trump protestors being paid $3,500 each, and the story even seems to come from ABC News. But a sharp eye reveals that it is a Columbian internet address, a quick search shows that "ABCNews.com.co" is a "satire" site, and the story is 100 percent fake. Still, many took it as true and continue to do so. I know from experience that even after being fact-checked on this kind of fake news, those who share it might set aside the source, but will probably doubledown on what they see as the underlying truth of the story. Pushing fake news is now big business though, and as long as clicks determine advertising rates, it is likely to continue and worsen in the near future.
The well-documented process of motivated reasoning reminds us that when we argue, when we search for information, and when we simply think, we are not neutral or unbiased. Instead, we are often actively working for a particular point of view. Fake news is just one extreme example of this phenomenon. People share fake news because it helps in an argument, because it fits with what they already believe, because they want it to be true. But this is an example of bad persuasion that actually points to a fact about good persuasion: People trust when they can link to what is already known or believed. In litigation, of course, you need your jurors or your judge to believe your -- hopefully true -- facts, and to do that you might need to overturn a preexisting faith in false facts. Persuading in that context means not just providing evidence and arguments. It means employing a strategy that builds on your target's existing system of knowledge and beliefs. In this post, I'll look at two reasons why the new must be linked to the known, and share a handful of quick practical implications for legal persuaders.