Brandolini's Law: The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle

Have you heard of Brandolini's law? It relates to why it's so difficult to refute a lie or deny fake news. We're going to explore how this approach came about and how it acts as an obstacle to rational thought.
Brandolini's Law: The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 23 April, 2023

Brandolini’s law is an eponymous law. This means it’s named after an individual. Eponymous laws are usually unofficial and not strictly formulated rules that tend to arise spontaneously often with no official supporting evidence. This particular law is named after Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer famous on Twitter.

Brandolini’s law claims that the amount of energy needed to refute a stupidity, falsehood, or hoax is greater than that required to produce it. More simply put, it takes a lot more effort to debunk stupidity than to produce or sustain it.

This idea is particularly relevant today, especially in relation to social media. Indeed, the amount of garbage posted in this space is virtually immeasurable. As are the failed attempts of people trying to escape their mistakes. Now, let’s explore Brandolini’s approach.

“In some cases, an expert on a given subject finds himself engaged in a battle against people with no professional training, but many opinions to offer. These types of situations often end up favoring the contestant whose opinion is the most popular, and not the person who really has the facts on their side.”

-Mauricio Sánchez-

Brandolini’s law

The origin of Brandolini’s law dates back to January 2013, on Twitter. Fed up with debating nonsense with strangers, the programmer read the book, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Immediately afterward, he witnessed a televised debate between journalist, Marco Travaglio and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. It made him feel so uncomfortable that he invented his now-famous law and put it on Twitter.

In a few hours, his law went viral. Thousands of people were in agreement. Brandolini’s law especially applies to issues like fake news and cognitive biases. It’s also known as The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle.

Currently, there are two obstacles to the public debate (particularly on social media) detailed below.

  • Absence of rational thought. This is described in the Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad as the axis of philosophy. It seeks the basis of our established beliefs. In its place is a series of whimsical statements born of hatred, revenge, interest, and other lowly emotions.
  • Lack of information based on facts. It’s easy to invent a conclusion, with no evidence to support it.

You might also like to read Stupidity Goes Unannounced

Woman overwhelmed by fake news on social media
Brandolini’s law raises the need to distort the accumulation of false news spread on the internet.

The asymmetry of bullshit

In reality, little is needed to invent bullshit. We can simply write any old nonsense and that’s it. The problem is that there are many people willing to believe anything and this recognition is the praise that such bullshit seeks (Carbonell Castañer, 2012).

An article in the journal, Historia y Comunicación Social mentions that social media and the internet tend to enhance polarization and promote emotional and inaccurate analysis.

It’s at these moments, that the efforts to distort fake news and lies appear. Paradoxically, to do so requires solid arguments.

Brandolini’s law is subject to three asymmetric aspects.

1. Impact asymmetry

Inaccurate statements tend to have more impact than any subsequent efforts to question them. For example, someone who claims that tomorrow, we’ll be invaded by aliens, following the predictions of a character in The Simpsons, will probably attract attention. But, whether they convince anyone of their belief is another matter.

However, subsequently, demonstrating that the character doesn’t really exist and that The Simpsons isn’t a reliable source of knowledge provokes less interest.

2. Memory retention asymmetry

Unbelievable/unbalanced initial claims leave a deeper imprint in memory than subsequent attempts to disprove them, even if they’re valid. Therefore, in the above-mentioned case, people are more likely to remember the fictional character’s original statement than those of the 50 experts who subsequently refuted it.

3. Asymmetry of the anointing

As a rule, we tend to perceive those who spread bullshit as having an advantage. On the other hand, we view those who contradict it as killjoys. We tend to prefer magical, powerful but untrue statements. As such, we’re seduced by possibility.

Manipulated puppet to choose
The media and social media promote inaccurate analysis of information.

The solution is to ignore it

We all have vigilantes inside us. They’re often anxious to defend what we think is true. But, as Brandolini’s law points out, we occasionally waste too much energy debating nonsense with people who are unwilling to reason. The kinds of people who reject any argument, no matter how solid.

Therefore, the healthiest thing to do is to ignore those who make absurd proposals. After all, any kind of controversy only makes them gain visibility. In fact, it can become an opportunity for them to adopt the role of victim. This is a position in which they feel comfortable because of the secondary benefits it gives them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.