The Illusion of Truth and Fake News

Over the past two years, the topic of “fake news” has been all over the news thanks largely in part to Donald Trump and the 2016 presidential election. Throughout the election year and still to this day many websites have published stories that have little to no factual claims. And yet many of these fake news stories have convinced people that they are in fact factual and  credible. The spread of fake news could be related to the illusion-of-truth effect which states that the more someone hears a statement, the more likely they are to believe that it is true. This is closely related to the topic of false memories which are memories that people claim to have experienced something which actually never happened.

There are examples where the illusion-of-truth effect can be seen in politics with such claims as Barack Obama is a Muslim, or he was not born in the United States. These claims are false but the reason they still exist is because of the illusion-of-truth effect. Lets pretend that a website has a story which claims Obama was not born in the United States. Now let’s say 100 people see that story and tell their friends about it or share it on social media which results in more people seeing it. Then another website sees that claim and makes an article about the same false claim. As more and more websites publish articles on the topic, the more likely people are going to believe it or at least think the story has plausibility.

A study from the Central Washington University was conducted to see “whether repeated exposure to fictitious stimuli would cause participants to develop a false memory for having heard about the false news stories from a source outside of the experiment” (Polage). The results of the study found that those who were exposed to fake news were more likely to believe that it was true (Polage). This study is helpful to have research behind the claim that fake news can be influential on a person’s thoughts and memories.

Society is currently in the age of technology where anyone can spread fake news through social media. Just in the last year, there was a good example of how fake news can spread in an instant. The mass shooting in Las Vegas led to a false claim that the suspect was a Democrat who was against Donald Trump. This claim eventually made its way to websites which wrote articles about the false claim. Those news stories were then shared on Facebook and other sites. The more likes and shares these posts received, the more believable this claim became to people (Levin).

The illusion-of-truth effect and the effect it has on news can be quite dangerous in a time where anyone can post something on the internet. False information can sometimes move faster than the truth. This is an issue we will have to deal with in the coming future to prevent false information that could have a negative impact on everyday things.



Works Cited

Levin, Sam. “Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Oct. 2017,

Polage, Danielle C. “Making up History: False Memories of Fake News Stories.” Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 8(2), 21 May 2012, pp. 245–250., doi:10.5964/ejop.v8i2.456.

5 thoughts on “The Illusion of Truth and Fake News

  1. bryanvillalobos

    This topic is such an important one to study in this day and age. Fake news is so vapid in our society and, with the advancements in technology and social media, it is so easy for false claims to spread and gain enough seemingly true reports that it is often hard to tell what is real these days. As voters and active participants in this nation and world, it is our duty to seek the truth in everything we read before we simply trust the things online. I loved the graphic on how to spot fake news, everyone should see it!

  2. sdavis4

    I feel that Fake news has become a big thing on social media lately. I could be completely wrong but I heard recently that Facebook was experiencing heat because a user’s account is connected through their phone number. So, all of their contacts and recent searches on their phone is being monitored by Facebook and advertisements and posts that show up on their news feed are linked through Facebook tracking their information on their phone. Of course, I haven’t researched this topic but it was something that popped up on one of my social media accounts and seemed interesting to read the article. I do find this disturbing and it may have a little truth to it. I am usually careful when on social media when weird ads pop-up or videos that look funny and I have no idea where they came from. I try not to click on them due to all the hacking and viruses that come from them but I still somehow receive the articles, ads and videos I’m not sure where they are coming from but it keeps popping up its weird, this is a very interesting topic.

  3. apelduna

    So, if I understood correctly, it sounds like the study you mentioned showed that priming effectively convinces people to believe fake news. That’s pretty unsettling, but also not really that surprising considering what we’ve learned about priming. I’m sure the news media is well aware of this also. Whether something is true or even plausible, if you show it to people enough times, or maybe even just once, they’re more likely to believe it when they encounter it in the future. It’s sad, too, because it takes just a couple minutes to do some research and check the facts. In a world where so much information is literally at our fingertips, it seems like people would more often prefer to be lazy and just believe what they want to hear. I think we have to admit that there’s some confirmation bias at work too. I’ll admit, I can feel myself being more inclined to just want to believe what is in line with my beliefs and sometimes feeling more willing to put effort into disproving something I don’t agree with. I do my best to combat those tendencies and be equally scrutinizing of what I agree and disagree with. However, I can see how it would be easy for someone to just go along with whatever they read or hear, regardless of how sensational and unbelievable it seems. Being well-informed takes effort.

  4. linnis

    Wow what an informative and extremely relevant blog post. Personally, I tend to click on stories that peak my emotional interest and sometimes I realize that the article that was shared is fake news or extremely old. However, recently my friend who majored in digital studies told me about this website that checks if it is fake news for you! A pretty nifty site, but as you’ve said and they study proved so many people rely on the amount of times the information is being circulated. They depend on the accuracy of others instead of helpful websites like the one I shared and the helpful graphic you included. However, both of those techniques require extra time and cognition to seek out and use those resources so as I would love to see people thinking more critically; I think the truth is that they won’t.

  5. linnis

    Oops I forgot to mention that in the study you mentioned it sounded like they were priming them with the fictitious stimuli.

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