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Fakes about coronavirus and not only: why do we believe false information

Along with the coronavirus epidemic, infodemia also came into our lives. This word refers to rumors, panic stories, fakes and humor that accompany the epidemic, and in some countries they also precede it, reports Life hacker.

Photo: shutterstock

We all hear them well and know: “Close all windows and doors. Tonight, black helicopters will spray the city from above with disinfection, it is dangerous for people, do not go to the streets. Infa hundred percent - the wife of an employee from the military unit secretly told. "

We perceive the spread of panic rumors and fake news rather negatively. For us, this is the same disease in society as smallpox, measles or coronavirus - a disease of the body.

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Undoubtedly, fake news, rumors and gossip are derived from panic, especially in a situation where the level of trust in official institutions that are responsible for the health and life of citizens falls sharply.

But let's look at the situation from the other side. Is the mass distribution of a wide variety of texts during this and all other previous epidemics, as well as natural disasters, only the result of improper behavior? But what if we have before us an important psychological tool acquired by man during evolution, visible only from the inside out in the current situation?

The great (without exaggeration) anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar is known to many as the discoverer of the so-called Dunbar number. In this he was helped by many years of research on various monkey communities.

Our relatives are very social animals, especially chimpanzees. They form groups of "allies" supporting each other, including for protection against predators and others of their own kind. The fee for help and the way to maintain social relations within the “support group” is grooming (scratching, stroking, eating lice).

It's nice - endorphins stand out, and chimpanzees quietly get high. However, there is a fly in the ointment. Grooming (that is, the pure maintenance of social ties) takes a lot of time, up to 20 percent of the waking time. This is necessary in order to maintain social ties within your support group - it will help when the predators arrive.

Thus, the maximum size of a group of chimpanzees who like one monkey, because they are her friends (well, you understand), is 80 individuals.

But the ancestors of man pierced this ceiling. Simultaneously with the size of the brain, the marginal volume of social groups of hominids grew (according to archaeological data). Accordingly, the time for grooming, and even more complicated, our ancestors also needed more. And then how to get food? There is a contradiction.

Dunbar suggested the following. Along with the growth of group size and the complexity of grooming, language emerges. But not just as a means of communication, but as second-order grooming - a social mechanism that allows you to maintain relationships with everyone at once.

It turns out that with second-order grooming, the size of the group can be increased.

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Why people have more support groups, and grooming more difficult - is not entirely clear. In primates, this number depends on the increase in the number of predators. More enemies - more grooming (if the chimpanzees are very scared, they begin to frantically groom with each other).

Perhaps the point is to increase the number of enemies - early Homo, in addition to lions, was threatened by the same people, only strangers. But, one way or another, the groups grew and the affirmation of social ties through language increased. The average size of “support groups” among modern people - about 150 people - is the very “Dunbar number”.

Modern people still spend 20 percent of their active time per day on their grooming. This is a fatal speech - communication not for the sake of transmitting information, but for the sake of pleasure and maintaining social contacts: “Hello! You look great, let's go get some coffee? Did you hear what you said about the constitutional amendments? But Masha got terribly fat ... "

Dunbar and his colleagues studied how much time they spend on gossiping in Western Europe and North America. And another, no less famous anthropologist Marshall Salins in his Stone Age Economics described aboriginal Australian gatherers who spend a very large percentage of their time on gossip — even to the detriment of direct food.

And here we come to a very important point. Why should a modern person constantly discuss “what Princess Marya Alekseevna will say”? Where does this social mechanism come from?

Gossip, chewing on the information about people around us, as well as rumors about the events of the big world rally us. And the greater the external threat, the stronger the need for “social glue” (greetings, congratulations, gossip) within the group. This unites us and allows us to check whether I am in place.

Dunbar and students measured the topic of spontaneous conversations between people for 30 minutes in everyday situations, while resting. In each segment there were themes “Family”, “Politics” and the like. But, actually, gossip, that is, a discussion of events taking place with other people and their surroundings, the observables devoted about 65 percent of the conversation time. And there was no correlation with gender and age (in connection with this, the image of an old gossip woman must be forgotten urgently and forever).

The first place in popularity among these spontaneous gossips was the search for advice, and the third - discussion of free riders (literally - "free riders"), that is, those who want to benefit from society without giving anything in return. This includes scammers and those who do not pay taxes, but teach children in a public free school.

According to Dunbar's witty reasoning, people therefore pay so much attention to “free riders” that they destroy confidence and threaten the sustainability of society as a whole. That is why gossip always comes back to free riders, often overestimating the danger posed by them.

It is tempting to look at the situation in which we are all now in this direction. The epidemic is dangerous not only by the threat of infection, but also by the collapse of social ties - the so-called social atomization. More and more countries are urging their citizens to quarantine voluntarily (sometimes not entirely voluntarily). As a result, many of us self-isolated: we don’t give lectures, we don’t sit in bars, we don’t go to rallies.

Of course, no one has closed Facebook, Twitter and VKontakte (for now). But not all of our social connections operate in social networks and instant messengers, and even if virtual contacts play a big role in our lives, we still need a personal and strong contact. And the destruction of ties just causes social tension.

How to deal with this lack of contacts? The answer from macroevolution is very simple: to strengthen grooming, that is, to increase the number of gossip, or the amount of informal communication between people about what is happening in the world. Look on this side of informal communication during the Great Terror: waves of repression go one after another, you don’t know what will happen to you tomorrow, you sit all night today and wait for arrest - nevertheless, people whisper, quietly, but tell political jokes, although they know very well that this is a dangerous act (from 5 to 10 years they gave for "anti-Soviet jokes").

The American historian Robert Thurston asked precisely this question: why in the second half of the 1930s, Soviet citizens risked their freedom for fun. The fact is that fear of the state machine of repression destroyed the trust between people, and communication with the help of humorous texts not only lowered fear, but also restored this trust.

In the current Russian situation, fake news is part of this informal communication, coming from all sides: from the worst (“the government hides that hundreds of thousands are sick”) to the fun ones (“masturbation saves from the virus”). But why fakes? B, think: a certain “young doctor from the Russian Federation, Yura Klimov, working in a hospital in Wuhan, called friends and told how to save himself from the virus,” “don’t buy bananas, you can get infected through them,” “close the windows, the city is disinfected” - that's all these are “good advice.”

True or false, these texts are distributed in order to warn a friend, relative, neighbor. These are the same tips that Americans constantly exchange in the gossip study conducted by the Dunbar group (I want to remind you that good tips were the most popular content of Americans' informal conversations).

Fake news offers to immediately respond to over-the-top danger, and therefore they become successful "transgressors" - they have the ability to quickly cross any borders. A frightened mother quickly sends information to her parental chat and to all strangers in general simply because she feels she has the moral right to do so.

Therefore, it is fakes that not only quickly “stick together” the old “support groups”, but also create new ones. So, on the evening of March 20, right before my eyes, a group of strangers among themselves began to discuss fake about coronavirus, quickly met and decided to go “save” their house. That is more danger - more social ties, just like a chimpanzee.

Many probably noticed that in the last two days, almost from the iron, a fake has been heard about scammers who are allegedly robbing apartments under the guise of “coronavirus disinfectors”. As well as a discussion of those people who, being quarantined, run away from it and thus threaten the public good.

The first is misinformation, and the second is the stories of real people who are unhappy with the conditions of forced self-isolation. But both of these stories - this is the very discussion of free riders parasitizing on social misfortune. In gossip, we especially focus on what threatens the structure of society - perhaps that is why fakes and real stories spread so quickly.

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In conclusion, it should be said that there are positive fake news. For example, photographs of swans and dolphins returning to empty Venetian canals are fake. Like the stories of elephants who drank corn wine and fell dead drunk in tea fields in China. Maybe the authors who are the first to publish such posts want to like this (the swans in the Venetian channels received a million views). But people are likely to massively distribute them for other reasons: to improve the emotional state of others - that is, for the purpose of social grooming.

As reported by ForumDaily:

  • A new virus was discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. In 2020, it covered all continents except Antarctica. On March 11, US President Donald Trump imposed a ban on entering the United States from EU countries. The ban came into force on Friday, March 13, and will last at least 30 days. In particular, it will concern people who have visited the Schengen area over the past 14 days.
  • March 13 Trump due to coronavirus introduced a nationwide emergency regime in the US.
  • On March 11, WHO recognized the situation with the coronavirus pandemic, which covered more than 110 countries. Symptoms of Coronavirus COVID-19 Disease Available here.
  • Virologist's tips on how to protect yourself from infection - link.
  • Taking advantage of the panic in the society because of the epidemic, fraudsters came up with several schemes to deceive victims of personal data and money. The most common ones can be found here.
  • Having succumbed to panic due to a state of emergency, Americans are massively buying toilet paperbut they cannot explain why they need it during the epidemic.
  • Trump has signed into law on paid leave due to coronavirus. Who can count on paid leave, read here.
  • Read all news about coronavirus in our special project.
Miscellaneous gossip Educational program fake coronavirus gossip

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