Psychological research has shown that the saying “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels, does have some validity. Of course this does not really make something the truth but people start believing it is and among psychologists something like this is known as the “illusion of truth” effect. This is becoming more of a problem in our age of social media where people are getting more of their information from crowds of often like minded people.
Fortunately repetition isn’t the only factor on forming beliefs of what is true. Logical reasoning, critical thinking, and verifying what is actually true can all contribute to finding the truth. Where repetition becomes more of a factor however is when it is used as a shortcut technique for guessing what is true. Reliance on shortcuts tends to happen a lot more in a world where huge volumes of information are barraging us daily.
What can we do about it? I think there are 6 main actions we can take ourselves and in helping others:
- Educate yourself and others on critical thinking and logic skills
- Do investigative research on the topics that really matter to you.
- Listen to the arguments of different views and evaluate the possibility that they may have some validity.
- Use and share credible sources that you have investigated, understand any potential bias, and have been shown to be trustworthy.
- Don’t pass on false or misleading information.
- Identify lies when you come in contact with them, especially for people close to you.
A good example of the battle for truth against lies is making edits on wikipedia which has a process for updating its encyclopedia that includes identifying sources for assertions being made. If fighting for the truth sounds like work, it is, but isn’t being a force for truth as you know it worth it? Retreating into a shell and letting lies spread will not make our interdependent world a better place. Pick your battles and make a choice that is right for you on how you can use your influence to make a difference in your own battles for the truth.