Of course—as you may have guessed from the title of this article—there was nothing “true” about the Miracle Mineral Solution’s healing claims. In fact, the solution being sold to thousands of misinformed buyers around the country was little more than a strong dose of bleach. Not only was it ineffective at curing medical conditions, it was also dangerous. Following sales of the Miracle Mineral Solution, the FDA received reports of hospitalizations, severe injuries and even deaths among those who had consumed the substance as directed by the sellers.
It’s hard to believe that in the modern age of light-speed information, so many could be duped by such an obvious fraud. Let’s talk about the behavioral factors that lead to the spread of misinformation on this scale, and how you can combat them to be sure you’re never the victim (or spreader!) of a similar scam.
A behavioral phenomenon called confirmation bias may help explain the spread and acceptance of misinformation online. Confirmation bias is the human tendency to strongly favor information that reinforces currently held beliefs. In the case of the Miracle Mineral Solution, the creator’s claims of an alternative cure-all likely validated the opinions of many people who already felt disenfranchised by the medical system.
Because so many of our beliefs are strongly ingrained—often from a young age—the best way to combat bias in yourself is to develop an awareness of your own beliefs and how they differ from those held by others. Research shows that people with diverse friend groups have higher levels of awareness in this regard, so branching out of your comfort zone and making new friends with different backgrounds is a great way to protect yourself from confirmation bias.
Separate but similar to confirmation bias, wishful thinking describes the tendency for people to believe in whatever explanation personally benefits them the most—even when that belief is based on false information. In the case of our example, people with serious medical conditions might have bought into the idea of a miracle cure simply because they so badly wanted it to be true. It’s hard to believe that anyone would prey on desperate, dying people but—unfortunately—that’s exactly the person often targeted by frauds.
Much like confirmation bias, wishful thinking can be prevented by surrounding yourself with people who are comfortable disagreeing with you. Any friend who’s willing to call you out on poor judgment is a valuable person to have on your team. Likewise, you should never hesitate to point out an unpleasant truth to one of your friends—even when it’s obviously not what they’re looking to hear.
The human mind loves to keep things simple. As a matter of survival, early peoples learned to paint reality with broad strokes: This type of animal is good to hunt, but this one will kill you. These red berries are good to eat, but those green ones are poisonous. Simple pattern recognition like this was critical in prehistoric times, but the same mechanism feeds the spread of misinformation in the modern age.
Today, advances in science and technology have revealed the world is incredibly complex, contextual and nuanced. Yes, certain red berries in a certain forest at a certain time of year might be safe to eat, but visually identical berries elsewhere might be poisonous. Catching yourself preferring simple answers for simplicity’s sake helps protect you against all kinds of misinformation.
Countless lives can be saved by equipping people with the simple guidance you’ve just read. The Miracle Mineral Solution is but one of many dangerous misinformation campaigns that have claimed victims since the widespread adoption of the Internet, and it won’t be the last. Bad people will always make new attempts to prey on the ignorance of others, but you can help protect yourself and your loved ones by calling out misinformation-enabling behaviors when you see them.
The people alive today are the first to exist alongside the Internet, with all its pros and cons. It’s up to us to be good stewards of truth for the future generations to come.
Sources: FDA.gov, Nature.com, globesmartkids.org