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10 Tips for Telling Fact From Fiction


8
Watch for the Big Lie
Master of the Big Lie, Adolf Hitler is welcomed by supporters at Nuremberg. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Master of the Big Lie, Adolf Hitler is welcomed by supporters at Nuremberg. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Throughout history, purveyors of falsehoods seldom have bothered with piddling minor fibs. Instead, they generally have opted for what propaganda experts call the "Big Lie" -- that is, a blatant, outrageous falsehood about some important issue, and one that's usually designed to inflame listeners' emotions and provoke them to whatever action the liar has in mind. The Big Lie is most often associated with Adolf Hitler, who advised in his book "Mein Kampf" that the "primitive simplicity" of ordinary people makes them vulnerable to massive deceptions. "It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and would not believe that others would have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously," the Nazi dictator wrote.

Ironically, even as he explained the method of the Big Lie, he used it to promote an especially brazen untruth -- that Jews and Communists somehow had deceived the German people into thinking that their nation's loss in World War I was caused by reckless, incompetent military leaders. The Nazi dictator was onto something, though perhaps even his own twisted mind didn't grasp it: Some of the most effective Big Lies are accusations of someone else being a liar [source: Hitler].

Hitler, of course, didn't invent the Big Lie, and a liar doesn't necessarily have to be a bloodthirsty dictator to pull it off. But the best way to protect yourself against the Big Lie is to be an educated, well-informed person who's got a broad base of knowledge and context. Sadly, we live in a culture where fewer and fewer people seem to have that background. In a 2011, Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. citizenship test; more than a third scored a failing grade -- 60 percent or lower -- to questions such as "How many justices are on the Supreme Court?" and "Who did the U.S. fight in World War II?" That's kind of scary [source: Quigley].