• Article

The persistence and peril of misinformation


Southwell, B. G., Thorson, E. A., & Sheble, L. (2017). The persistence and peril of misinformation: Defining what truth means and deciphering how human brains verify information are some of the challenges to battling widespread falsehoods. American Scientist, 105(6), 372-375. DOI: 10.1511/2017.105.6.372


Misinformation—both deliberately promoted and accidentally shared—is perhaps an inevitable part of the world in which we live, but it is not a new problem. People likely have lied to one another for roughly as long as verbal communication has existed. Deceiving others can offer an apparent opportunity to gain strategic advantage, to motivate others to action, or even to protect interpersonal bonds. Moreover, people inadvertently have been sharing inaccurate information with one another for thousands of years.

However, we currently live in an era in which technology enables information to reach large audiences distributed across the globe, and thus the potential for immediate and widespread effects from misinformation now looms larger than in the past. Yet the means to correct misinformation over time might be found in those same patterns of mass communication and of the facilitated spread of information.