Who spreads “fake news”? Most popular accounts portray misinformation campaigns as either attempts to gain partisan advantage
or efforts by hostile foreign actors
to sow confusion or undermine faith in democratic institutions. A new study
, one of the most extraordinary I’ve seen, suggests something arguably scarier: domestic
nihilists who basically just want to see the world burn.
The study, well summarised here
(and also in the NYT
), constructs a psychographic measure the authors call “Need for Chaos” and finds that it predicts sharing hostile misinformation, irrespective of partisan leaning - and, strikingly, that this trait may be present in up to 40% of the US population. They also find that Need for Chaos is associated with “frustrated status seeking” - i.e. those who are “status obsessed but socially marginalised
Can a democracy can function if a sizeable fraction of the electorate just wants to bring the whole system down? It would be lazy to equate Need for Chaos with Brexit/Trump voters - but equally it does raise uncomfortable questions for liberal elites, questions whose answers are no clearer than they were in June 2016
. It also exposes what I see as the fallacy on both sides of the Atlantic of hoping that the next election (or referendum) will take us back to the status quo ante. The electoral surprises of 2016 were the symptom, not the cause, of our problems.