Cognitive dissonance and fake news


DU30’S presidency inaugurated the age of fake news or lies in the Philippines. His administration utilizes fake news or plain lies to govern the nation. These lies are enthusiastically embraced by Du30’s fanatics. Why do these people, some of them highly educated professionals become voracious consumers of fake news? Cognitive dissonance provides an explanation for the phenomenon.

Cognitive dissonance theory was proposed by Leon Festinger in 1957. The theory holds that “a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational, often maladaptive behavior.” When a person holds or is confronted with two contradicting or conflicting beliefs, it will lead to dissonance creating discomfort on the person. The person will do something to reduce the dissonance or discomfort because people according to Festinger “have the inner drive to hold their beliefs and attitude in harmony.”

There are several ways on how people reduce the dissonance. One way people reduce the dissonance is by changing their beliefs and attitudes in the light of new information. Another way to deal with the dissonance is to acquire new information that “outweighs the dissonant beliefs.” Or the person can reduce the dissonance by reducing the importance of the cognitions or downplaying their impact. The person can also deny the information that contradicts existing beliefs or attitude.

These are hard times for the fanatics of Du30. Reality does not match with their expectations and there is a wide chasm between what they believe and what it is.

Fanatics voted Du30 sincerely believing that he will bring about real change in the country. They believe that he will deliver on his promises – cleaning the country of illegal drugs in three to six months, confront the territorial grabber China (Jet Ski promise), end corruption, punish abusive and dishonest officials, reform the bureaucracy and usher in a new era of prosperity for Filipinos.

Reality bites and bites hard. More than a year in office and Du30 not only failed to deliver on his promises but the direction the country is going is the opposite direction.

Illegal drugs are not eradicated in six months and Du30 now claims it might be done at the end of his term which is six years.  On the other hand, the toll on the nation of the war is heavy and Filipinos are paying a high price for Du30’s pet project, with almost 14,000 people killed in bloody police and vigilante operations.

Worst, the brutal killings of suspected drug addicts/pushers did not stop the illegal drugs trade in the country. As attested by the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China in Davao last May, the illegal drugs trade is flourishing under Du30’s watch particularly in his home city ruled by his children.

Instead of eliminating corruption, corruption is making a big come back under Du30.  Jailed high government officials charged with non-bailable crime of plunder are released – Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Jinggoy Estrada are now enjoying the loot.  The biggest thief of them all, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos is given a hero’s burial (a role model for thieves, robbers and plunderers). Lately, top Social Security System (SSS) officials are fired and placed under investigation for alleged corruption.

Things are even worse on the China question. Instead of baring his fangs as he did on the United Nations (UN), US and European Union (EU), Du30 handled China like a faithful lapdog. He is not only reverential to the bully in the neighborhood, but acted as its chief apologist and mouthpiece. He parroted China’s line that confronting China means war and allowed the bully to grab Philippine territory. His acerbic and dirty mouth is sealed as China continues to build military posts on the grabbed Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.

On the economic front, it’s worst. The exchange rate between the peso and US dollar hovers at 1 $ = 51.67 and is likely to be 52 pesos at the end of the year. Philippine outstanding debt is now at 6.444 trillion pesos and new investments fall by 90 percent in the first half of 2017. Inflation is now at 3.4 percent, up from 1.9 percent in June, 2016. How do the fanatics of Du30 deal with the dissonance or discomfort brought about by the ugly reality concerning their cult-god? The simple answer is fake news.

The hard facts that their cult-god miserably failed and turned out to be a big farce must very disheartening and discomfiting for the fanatics. Some fanatics dealt with the truth by changing their belief and abandoning Du30. This explains the dwindling support for the current administration.

But hard-core and recalcitrant fanatics are not giving up, blinded by pride and naïve loyalty. Their means of dealing with the dissonance is denial of the facts and turning to information that affirms their wrong belief. This information is the fake news. Fake news feeds the hunger of fanatics for information that validates their distorted conviction. This is their way of dealing with the discomfort brought about by the truth.

It is not surprising that to sustain their fanaticism, Du30 has to constantly nourish and sustain his supporters with fake news. This is the only way for him to maintain their loyalty. This explains why fake news queen Mocha Uson was made information official and news agencies of the government are churning out fake news or lies. The objective of Du30’s fake news is not only to deceive the public but to feed the fanatics.

Turning to fake news may be a good coping strategy for Du30’s fanatics but bad for the rest of society. Veteran British journalist Jon Snow considers fake news as a threat to democracy. As what happened in the last US election where Russia used fake news to meddle in that election, fake news if allowed uncheck can undermine democracy and the entire society.

If democracy and human rights are to be preserved, fake news must be fought vigorously with the truth and critical thinking.

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