Lies and Hate Speech Belong in a Toxic Dump
Brains, unlike silicon-based computers, absorb what they consume and modify themselves in response. On the other hand, when you feed a lie to a typical computer, it processes the data without any lasting effect. The lie doesn’t alter the computer and, after a restart, the computer shows no permanent changes arising from the lie it consumed. In contrast, the human brain retains a memory trace of the lie and that trace affects future processing. In this sense, lies alter the brain and distort the person’s future perceptions. Frequently repeated lies cause the most damage, including becoming ever more credible with each consumed repetition.
Many journalists and publications feel compelled to publish the lies of public figures, because “the public deserves to know who’s lying about what.” That position naively assumes that people benefit from hearing falsehoods explicitly labeled as false. But repeating lies, even when carefully labeled, does additional cognitive damage to people who consume them. We must quarantine lies and hate speech if we want to minimize their damaging effects.
In the long run, we might hope to inoculate people against falsehoods. This would require that people first hear and learn trustworthy information and, only then, might we expect them to learn how to process lies and hate speech without adverse effects. If, for example, we know the history of the Third Reich and World War II, we might resist being altered by Neo-Nazi propaganda. That’s a possible long-term approach to vaccinating the population against lies and hate speech. We are not there, however, and the public needs protection against rampant self-interested lying and disinformation.
For these reasons, we make it difficult for members of the public to browse Distrusted articles and why we embed Shams within Nuggets, reinforcing the primacy of Facts. We want members to focus on Trusted content and to help them automatically filter Distrusted content from their eyes and ears. We believe that Distrusted content should go into a Toxic Dump, where people enter only when properly prepared. People should understand that disinformation affects everyone negatively.