Truth vs Lies: Don’t blindly trust what you are told

truth, lies, fake news and propaganda in social media connections

Truth, half truths, fake news, lies, and propaganda are all spread on the internet. Do you really know what is truth and what is not on the internet or in the news? Below I will demonstrate that it may not be as easy to tell as you think.

How many times have you seen someone on Facebook share something they have read, which was received from someone else?

How many times have you read it and thought, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that! I must let everyone else know!”, and then shared the revelation with everyone else on social media?

Out of those times, how many times have you sat back and wondered if what you just read is true?

Psychological basis

Cognitive biases are patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgement. Psychologists have studied this problem for many years (Haselton, et al. 2005) and refer to many different cognitive biases (see this list of Cognitive Biases) which can help to perpetuate the problem of false information spreading across the world.

Although the reality of most of these biases is confirmed by reproducible research (Thomas, 2018), there are often controversies about how to classify these biases or how to explain them (Dougherty, et al. 1999). Some are effects of information-processing rules (i.e., mental shortcuts), called heuristics, that the brain uses to produce decisions or judgements. Biases have a variety of forms and appear as cognitive (“cold”) bias, such as mental noise (Hilbert, 2012), or motivational (“hot”) bias, such as when beliefs are distorted by wishful thinking. Both effects can be present at the same time (MacCoun, 1998; Nickerson, 1998).

There is also cognitive dissonance (PsychologyToday, n.d.). This is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief clashes with new evidence perceived by the person. When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, ideals, and values, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort. This is where the cognitive biases can come into play.

Someone who has a confirmation bias, for example; will search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms their preconceptions (or previous beliefs, ideals and values).

Fake News

In recent times, you no doubt will have heard the phrase “fake news” being used a lot. In today’s world of the internet and with so much information available at your fingertips or via voice activated search, being able to tell what is truth, what is half true and what is a downright lie is getting harder and harder. There will be more lies to pick out from the truth when there are more lies and half truths spread. From fake celebrity gossip to so-called cancer cures.

Once the information is initially shared, it reaches all that person’s social media contacts. Once it reaches you, it may have reached a million or more people. If just 5% of those people shared that information, the reach can be increased many times over. Just because the information is on the internet, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is true.


Many times through history, there have been cases where propaganda has been used to stir emotions and encourage people to take action. Some of this propaganda has been truthful and some has been dangerously deceptive. Propaganda is one of the methods used in psychological warfare, which can also involve “false flag” military operations in which the identity of the operatives is depicted as those of an enemy nation.

Take Nazi propaganda for example. Adolf Hitler and Nazi propagandists played on widespread and long-established German anti-Semitism. The Jews were blamed for things such as robbing the German people of their hard work while themselves avoiding physical labour. Hitler also declared that the mission of the Nazi movement was to annihilate “Jewish Bolshevism” (Kershaw, 2001 p.257) Hitler asserted that the “three vices” of “Jewish Marxism” were democracy, pacifism and internationalism (Kershaw, 2001 p.303). He also said the truth was that Jews were behind Bolshevism, communism and Marxism (Kershaw, 2001 p.259). Joseph Goebbels in the 1937 Great Anti-Bolshevist Exhibition declared that Bolshevism and Jewry were one and the same (Calvin College, 2006).

In 1935, anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany were introduced. Known as the Nuremberg Laws, the laws excluded non-Aryans and political opponents of the Nazis from the civil-service. Also, sexual relations and marriage between people classified as “Aryan” and “non-Aryan” (Jews, Romani, Blacks…) was prohibited as Rassenschande or “race defilement” (Beardian, 2014).

Truth in Church and Government?

The persecution of black people through “statements of truth” was not limited to Nazi Germany. False truths were told in Christian churches. Not just in South Africa, but in the US and here in England.

I clearly remember a sermon in a church given in my presence when I was very young (under 8 years old). It was said that God turned “evil white people” black as a curse. Hence the start of the black race. Neither I nor my parents were religious, yet I went in search many years ago for the passages in the Bible without success. There is a similar story which some have heard and that is the idea that black people are the result of the curse of Ham (Evans, 2010).

Now, seeing as the information came from the Government, or a member of the clergy, surely the information is true and correct, right? Well obviously, from these examples, it is not necessarily the case. You don’t even have to go far back in time to see examples from the UK Government. Look at Tony Blair’s campaign against Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” and the subsequent Chilcot Report (Chilcot, 2016).

Check the facts

It doesn’t matter who gives you the information, whether it is your friend on Facebook or Twitter, the bloke in the pub or down the street… even the UK Parliament, the Government, or members of US Congress. Check the facts before you accept anything as truth. Look for the sources.

It is often the case, however, that there is no information on where the sources of information are, especially when reading articles in the newspaper or a magazine. Science classed as Pseudoscience follows the same pattern. Just mentioning an obscure study by Dr. Lipschitz in 2014 is not enough. What is the title of the study paper? Where and when was it published? You can find out from the source exactly what was found and how, when you know this.

If you find something that doesn’t sound like it is truth, challenge it. Ask for the sources to their information. When you read my articles, you will see that I do my best to provide enough sources to verify the facts I put forward. Until you are able to check the facts, take the information with a pinch of salt.


Beardian. (2014). What were the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany? Retrieved from

Calvin College. (2016). German Propaganda Archive: The Great Anti-Bolshevist Exhibition. Retrieved from

Chilcot, J. (2016). The Report of The Iraq Inquiry. Retrieved from and archived 23rd November, 2017 at

Dougherty, M. R., Gettys, C. F., & Ogden, E. E. (1999). MINERVA-DM: A memory processes model for judgments of likelihood. Psychological Review106(1), 180. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.106.1.180 Free PDF:

Evans, T. (2010). Are Black People Cursed? The Curse of Ham. Retrieved from

Haselton MG, Nettle D, Andrews PW (2005). The evolution of cognitive bias. In Buss DM (ed.). The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc. pp. 724–746. Free PDF:

Hilbert, M. (2012). Toward a synthesis of cognitive biases: How noisy information processing can bias human decision making. Psychological bulletin138(2), 211. doi: 10.1037/a0025940. Free PDF:

Kershaw, I. (2001). Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris. London: Penguin Books Limited.

MacCoun, R. J. (1998). Biases in the interpretation and use of research results. Annual review of psychology49(1), 259-287. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.259. Free PDF:

Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of general psychology2(2), 175-220. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175. Free PDF:

PsychologyToday (n.d.). Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved from

Thomas, O. (2018). Two decades of cognitive bias research in entrepreneurship: What do we know and where do we go from here?. Management Review Quarterly, 1-37. doi: 10.1007/s11301-018-0135-9

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