Fake news scares as much as climate change

The survey shows that 70% of respondents consider fake news to be as much of a threat as climate change.

Tell me what you’re afraid of and I’ll tell you who it is. Global threats used to be communists, Martians, young rebels. Now the repertoire has been updated: it’s climate change, fake news and digital attacks, according to a survey (full – 1KB) conducted in 19 rich or developed countries by the Pew Research Center, published on August 31. The fear of digital threats has surprised experts as the world has just gone through a huge pandemic with 6.5 million deaths and is witnessing a war that has changed the global economic scenario.

Among the fears, climate change leads the way, with 75% of responses in the 19 surveyed countries. It is followed by the spread of fake news (70%), cyber attacks from other countries (67%), the state of the global economy related to the transmission of infectious diseases (both 61%).

In 2019, the same institute conducted a similar study, but only in the United States. Fake news appeared in 50% of mentions, while climate change was mentioned by 46% of respondents. This prejudice remains present in the United States, but with an incredible growth in the fear of fake news. Now 70% fear fake news, while climate threats are cited by 54% – a staggering 16% believe global climate change is not a threat. The biggest fear of Americans, according to the survey, is cyber attacks from other countries.

It is a peculiarity of the USA to fear fake news more than climate change. I know of only one explanation for this oddity: the oil lobby there has spent billions trying to show that global warming has nothing to do with the use of fossil fuels. There is also rampant use of fake news, especially by the Republican Party under the leadership of Donald Trump.

In addition to the United States, the survey was conducted in countries such as Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan.

The highest percentage of those who fear the threat of fake news (84%) was recorded in South Korea, one of the most advanced countries in the world of digital technology. The lowest rate (42%) comes from Israel.

Brazil was not part of the Pew Research Center survey, but another survey found the country to be in the lead ranking the world of those concerned about fake news. According to the report of Reuters Digital News Report, Brazil led this fear in 2020 with 84%. Portugal appeared in 2nd place with 76%.

The fear of digital threats is nothing new. At the turn of 1999 to 2000, a survey by the Ipsos Institute from the USA showed that there was a great fear of the millennium bug and opportunistic cyber attacks, just at the turn of 2000 to spoil the fun. The millennium bug was the threat of a general collapse of the world’s computers – which did not happen.

At that time, there was only talk about the millennium bug and the fear of the general disappearance of data. It was more or less obvious that the press bombardment would fuel fears that the earth would stop due to a computer malfunction.

I have the impression that the fear of fake news is similar to the fear of the millennial mistake in terms of the mental mechanism that elevates this topic to the top of the world. ranking in countries like the USA and Brazil.

It is clear that fake news can kill, as it did with the vaccine deniers and more than 600,000 dead in Brazil. Of course, fake news can cause political barbarism, such as the invasion of the Capitol by angry mobs based on false information – that the Democrats stole the election.

But there is also a willingness to place himself high on ranking threats of something we don’t really know what it is. In 1999, the French historian Georges Duby published a precious booklet entitled “Year 1000, Year 2000.”. In the work, he compares the fears of the turn of the 1st millennium with those of the 2nd millennium. It seems silly to compare the fears of the year 1000, when the world was thought to be on fire, to those of the year 2000, marked by technology, millennial bugs and cyber attacks.

Duby, however, believes that there is something in common between these 2 fears separated by 1,000 years: insecurity, the inescapable sense of uncertainty of life. I think the French historian’s hypothesis also applies to fake news. It is the fear of the unknown, of chaos, of an attack that can come from nowhere. Fear is, after all, one of the most primitive defense mechanisms.

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