South Africa: If Memory Serves Us Well - Understanding the Distortion of Events in the Digital Age


How do we come to believe that 'truth isn't truth', Nkandla has a great fire pool, the press is 'the enemy of the people', the 'deep state is plotting against Trump' (hello, QAnon) or that in the heart of every reputable news organisation sits a disinformation cabal? We investigate.

Do you remember when now US President Donald J Trump declared that then-president Barack Obama was born in Kenya? As absurd as it sounds (and as bogus as it is), five years after the claim, an NBC News-SurveyMonkey poll in 2017 showed that 72% of registered Republican Party voters were still not sure if Obama was, in fact, a US citizen. Seventy-two percent. Five years and one US birth certificate later.

If fake news, conspiracy theories and lies can hold so much grip on our minds and conversations, it is because social media spread them like bushfire, but also because humans can transform fake information into fake memories, especially when the fabricated details align with our system of values and political beliefs.

Dr Kevin Thomas, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town, says that "memory is not like a computer hard drive, in the sense...

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