The latest episode of the arte program "42 - The Answer to Almost Everything" looks at the phenomenon of lying and asks whether lies are always and exclusively bad, or whether they might not even make our world a better place. Jan-Hinrik Schmidt looks at the topic from his favorite place of research - the Internet. He explains why it is precisely there that lies can become so dangerous.
While humans are particularly good at it, they are far from the only species that tries to deceive their fellow species through deliberate deception. Various species of apes do it, swallows do it, even frogs. The lie helps individuals in a large herd to get more for themselves despite great competition for food and reproduction. First of all, this is a selfish purpose.
Understanding that others do not know the same things we do remains a fundamental step in children's development. Lying is not always bad, it is a social tool we need to navigate the large groups in which we live. By not having to always reveal our innermost selves.
So, arte's half-hour documentary seeks to find out at what point lies help us and when they become dangerous. To do so, it interviews a psychologist, an evolutionary biologist, a developmental psychologist - and HBI Internet researcher Jan-Hinrik Schmidt
Lies on the Internet
While an analog lie that circulates between only a handful of people usually has little impact on society, lies in the digital realm can have major negative effects. There, they become a danger in the form of fake news and rapidly spreading disinformation.
"The problem with fake news is that it undermines trust in the public, in journalism and in the way we communicate as a society," says Jan-Hinrik Schmidt. "The internet plays into the hands of people who have an interest in disinformation spreading. For one thing, the Internet creates connections between us humans, so that we as users can also, perhaps unwittingly, spread things that turn out to be false afterwards. For another, disinformation appeals to our emotions. We perceive it as particularly scandalous, or it confirms our opinion. In other words, we react to it in a particularly emotional way. Algorithms pick up on these signals and spread this information all the more rapidly."
The program was broadcast on 17 September 2023. You can watch it in the arte media library
(Hamburg, 9 October 2023)