Why do People Believe Fake News?

I am asking a rhetorical question; I do not expect anyone to have the answer. However, I am mystified as to why so many people believe fake news when they could easily fact check fake news against a reliable news source using the amazing trove of information available on the internet.

Yesterday, I was having breakfast with a cycling buddy who revealed that he had voted for Donald Trump. He added, “I finally found out why there are so many protests against his election. The universities are full of students who are illegal immigrants.”

I would think that if a person heard such a statement that person would think, “That sounds extremely unlikely. I wonder if it is true” and then go on to check it. But, no, some people accept such statements unquestionably as if they were genuine. Worse yet, many do not care if such statements are true or false. It the statements accord with their prejudices, they accept them.

For the record, in 2005 the Pew Institute estimated that there were 50,000 undocumented students enrolled in U.S. universities. I know the number is out of date and is likely larger today, but that’s what I was able to find doing a quick search. The National Center for Educational Statistics estimates total college and university enrollment in the USA in 2016 as 20.5 million.  Comparing numbers that are 11 years apart is not accurate, but if we do use those two numbers, 0.24 percent of students in higher education are undocumented. Today the number may be higher, but so let us assume the percentage is triple today. Even with that assumption, less that one percent of the students in higher education would be undocumented. Does my friend accept that? No! He refuses to allow his opinions to be contaminated by facts.

 He also said that he voted for Trump because of the impropriety surrounding the Clinton Foundation. He has a point there. It does look as if some of the large contributors to the Clinton Foundation received increased access to government officials. However, that appearance of impropriety pales in comparison with the outright tax fraud that Donald Trump committed in connection to his foundation. Trump used tax-free contributions to his foundation to pay some of his business expenses in violation of federal law. At least the Clinton Foundation does real and important charitable work. The Trump Foundation has been just one more source of fraudulent income for Donald J. Trump. Why would someone who is concerned about a crooked foundation vote for Trump?

I tried to point out that my friend was applying two different standards to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He didn’t care. Donald Trump has committed offenses that would have landed you or me in jail if we had committed them, but crowds at Trump rallies chanted “Lock her up!” Therefore my friend couldn’t possibly vote for Hillary Clinton.

I think there is something wrong with the educational system in the U.S. if so many of use are unable to differentiate between fact or fiction, or worse yet, don’t even care whether or not our opinions are fact-based or simple prejudices. Why do so many people grow up, and graduate from high school without having acquired the most basic critical-thinking skills?