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Dannagal Young — How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation

Dannagal Young — How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation (book cover)

Why are so many of us wrong about so much? From COVID-19 to climate change to the results of elections, millions of Americans believe things that are simply not true―and act based on these misperceptions. In Wrong: How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation, expert in media and politics Dannagal Goldthwaite Young offers a comprehensive model that illustrates how political leaders and media organizations capitalize on our social and cultural identities to separate, enrage, and―ultimately―mobilize us. Through a process of identity distillation encouraged by public officials, journalists, political and social media, Americans’ political identities―how we think of ourselves as members of our political team―drive our belief in and demand for misinformation. It turns out that if being wrong allows us to comprehend the world, have control over it, or connect with our community, all in ways that serve our political team, then we don’t want to be right.

Over the past 40 years, lawmakers in America’s two major political parties have become more extreme in their positions on ideological issues. Voters from the two parties have become increasingly distinct and hostile to one another along the lines of race, religion, geography, and culture. In the process, these political identities have transformed into a useful but reductive label tied to what we look like, who we worship, where we live, and what we believe. Young offers a road map out of this chaotic morass, including demand-side solutions that reduce the bifurcation of American society and increase our information ecosystem’s accountability to empirical facts. By understanding the dynamics that encourage identity distillation, Wrong explains how to reverse this dangerous trend and strengthen American democracy in the process.

Dannagal Goldthwaite Young is a professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware. Young is an award-winning scholar and teacher, a TED speaker, an improvisational comedian, and the author of Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the United States. Her new book is Wrong: How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation.

Shermer and Young discuss:

  • How do you know if you are wrong? Or that someone else is wrong?
  • Did reason evolve for veridical perception or group identity?
  • The 3 “Cs” of our needs: Comprehension, Control, Community
  • Comprehension: to make sense of our world; Control: to control our world, Community: to be part of a social group
  • Nonfalsifiable reasoning
  • Why we have a two-party system and what we can do to make it more responsible
  • Newt Gingrich, Contract with America
  • Actively Open-Minded Thinking, Intuition, and Religion
  • Intellectual Humility & Mark Leary’s IH test:

    1. “I question my own opinions, positions, and viewpoints because they could be wrong”
    2. “I reconsider my opinions when presented with new evidence”
    3. “I recognize the value in opinions that are different from my own”
    4. “I accept that my beliefs and attitudes may be wrong”
    5. “In the face of conflicting evidence, I am open to changing my opinions”
    6. “I like finding out new information that differs from what I already think is true”
  • Neil Postman in 1985: “When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say ‘Let me think about that’ or ‘I don’t know’.”
  • 1996: Daily Show, Fox News, MSNBC Matthew Levendusky:

    “These programs contribute to polarization not by shifting the center of the ideological distribution, but rather by lengthening the tails (i.e., moving the polarized even further away from the center.”

  • The rise of Newsmax, OAN, and even further right media
  • Jonathan Haidt: “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid”
  • Echo Chambers vs. Identity Chambers
  • The role of Alternative Media in truth telling and getting things wrong
  • The role of Social Media in truth telling and getting things wrong
  • Ways of knowing: do we seek truth through intuition or evidence?
  • What is disinformation and who is worse, the Right or the Left?
  • Trump and his lies
  • Is Trump an existential threat to our democracy?
  • What happened to conservatives and the Republican Party in the Trump era
  • Do people vote their party or their values?
  • Left lies: trans issues, race issues, woke progressivism
  • Facts and values, science and morality
  • Lies and disinformation about masks and vaccines
  • Solutions to identity-driven wrongness.

This episode was released on November 28, 2023.

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