How social media and fake news are hijacking our brains and fomenting violence

Through the fragmenting lens of social media we are living, increasingly, in the left-brain’s world. By stripping information of context and then actively manipulating it, social media has the power to prey upon left-brain tendencies and preferences by transforming bits of information into world-historic conspiracies. This phenomenon pre-dated the Internet, of course. Oliver Stone used the technique to brilliant effect in his film JFK, running and re-running the Zapruder film showing the killing of President Kennedy (“Back and to the left, back and to the left”) to make it seem impossible that the fatal bullet shot from behind could have driven Kennedy’s torso backward. Stone’s distortion helped fulfill the requirement for a second gunman and provided support for a conspiracy Stone said involved the entire U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. In fact, experts have demonstrated conclusively how that movement was not just possible but required by the ballistic and other conditions in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. Partial information can be manipulated in the left hemisphere to create conspiracies; a fuller context protects against them.

The rise of social media has infinitely multiplied the potential and reality of “fake news.” The public concerns about allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election are in large part a product of a disaggregated reality created, or at least exacerbated, by social media. Deceptively edited videos of election workers mishandling ballots, the “red mirage” of election night, the entirely insane idea that a deceased Hugo Chávez teamed up with Dominion Voting to elect Joe Biden (among many other conspiracy theories)—all these could be understood as weapons targeted at over-dominant left hemispheres searching for patterns and explanations where there are none. As McGilchrist points out, while emotions are housed in both hemispheres, anger “lateralizes” to the left, tending to fuel the rage associated with the feelings of powerlessness and fear that conspiracy thinking engenders. Focus enough people on deceptive, fragmented information that makes them believe a vast interlocking conspiracy has overturned the democratic will and you get the events of January 6.