Brandolini’s law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage which describes the difficulty of debunking false, facetious, or otherwise misleading information.
The law postulates that the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than required to produce it.
“Liars prosper” is an equally effective way of expressing this.
Brandolini’s Law was even more powerful in the pre-internet era. As a kid, I wore hand-me-down Lee jeans instead of the then-fashionable Levis jeans. When jackasses asked me in mocking tones why I was wearing Lee jeans, I would say, “Levi Strauss was a Nazi.”
And absent the internet, that meant that someone would need to find a biography of Levi Strauss and read it to prove me wrong.
Brandolini’s law on steroid.
Brandolini’s Law is certainly true, for a few simple reasons:
Liars don’t require due diligence. In order to make a fact-based argument, you must find the facts and verify their veracity. Liars are not saddled by these requirements.
So when Donald Trump asserts something as stupid as windmills cause cancer, a fact-based refutation of this lie requires time and effort, and it often takes longer to explain than the lie itself.
Also, human intelligence is distributed along a bell curve, meaning half of your audience is below average in intelligence and are therefore more susceptible to spurious claims. Stupid people are more easily manipulated and attracted to sensationalism. They are also likely to accept lies that suit their own personal narrative.
All people are susceptible to the latter, but absent a foundation in logical reasoning, it’s far more common in stupid people.
Tell a racist that Mexico only sends its criminals and rapists across the border, and the racist is thrilled to hear that his worldview has gained additional support, rather than questioning the assertion to determine its veracity first.
The real problem with Brandolini’s Law today is that because of political tribalism, no one is punished when exposed as a liar anymore.
No one in the Republican party contested Trump’s assertion that windmills cause cancer. When Trump used a Sharpie to alter a meteorological map to cover up his error, no Republican spoke out in protest. When Trump falsely claimed – over and over again – that he was Michigan’s Man of the Year, no Republican in Michigan was willing to admit that “Michigan Man of the Year” isn’t even a real thing. When Trump falsely claimed that it didn’t rain on inauguration day (it poured) and that crowd sizes exceeded Obama’s inauguration crowds (not even close), Republicans adamantly defended his lies despite video evidence of the rain and photographic evidence of the crowd. When Trump proposed that bleach might be an effective treatment for COVID-19, even the public health officials in the room remained silent.
The result was a 121% increase in bleach poisonings during the week following his comments.
When Trump claimed that the election was stolen, Republicans went along with this lie, and the result was an attempted insurrection. The death and maiming of Capitol police officers. One of the most shameful moments in our recent history.
Brandolini’s law is correct. Refuting a lie on the internet is an incredibly arduous process. It’s hard, thankless work. But when the lie has finally been uncovered and adequately refuted but the liar is not punished for their actions, that is when alternative realities begin to take hold.
This is when truth becomes irrelevant.
This is the dangerous ground that we walk today.
We know who the liars are, but we are unwilling to condemn them. Unwilling to punish them. Unwilling to demand the truth from public officials if it means weakening our chances of holding onto power.
Brandolini’s Law is bad, but I’d like to propose one even worse:
Dicks Law: When liars prosper, truth dies. In the absence of truth, monsters rise.