In the Era of “Fake News,” It’s Hard to Know What, or Who, to Really Believe

Today, amateur and professional trolls work to stir up arguments and divisiveness. Casual social media discussions frequently devolve into arguments with all kinds of questionable bits of information casually thrown around like wadded-up paper balls. Did the Pope really endorse Donald Trump? Is Kid Rock really running for Senate? Time to run to a fact-checking website – but how many people will trust what they say?

It’s enough to turn anyone into a skeptic. And our research on global personality trends shows more people are becoming skeptical, largely due to this contentious atmosphere. As you can see on the graph, average skepticism scores from the Hogan Development Survey have steadily increased nearly every year since 2002. On the other side of the coin, our research team noted skepticism was much lower in 2001 and 2002, potentially due to recent events such as the 9-11 terrorist attack that had an impact on people around the globe. It is possible that, on average, the trauma of the event caused people to become more supportive of their government, at least temporarily.

At healthy levels, skepticism can be a virtue that prevents you from falling for harmful hoaxes and scams. Some of the best business leaders regularly harness their skepticism to steer clear of overly-risky schemes or emailed phishing attempts. But, since the HDS is the only personality assessment that delves into the dark side of human personality, we also know the negative effects of skepticism.Skeptical_Graph_1200x630_2

As you navigate the information wars, here are some behaviors to watch out for in yourself (or the family member arguing with you during Thanksgiving dinner):

  • High cynicism: assumption others have bad ulterior motives, overly negative, quarrelsome.
  • High mistrust: generalized mistrust of people and institutions, worrisome, alert for signs of perceived mistreatment.
  • Holding grudges: unwilling to forgive real or perceived wrongs, unsympathetic, fault-finding.

If you find yourself assuming the worst and becoming that argumentative jerk no one wants to talk to, it’s time to step back. Here are some developmental recommendations:

  • Recognize that the world is not made up of purely “heroes” and “villains,” and that most people have at least some good intentions.
  • Realize that others’ actions aren’t necessarily attempts to demean, frustrate, or take advantage of you.
  • Build confidence in others by confiding in them and realizing they will not use such information against you.