Misinformation and You!

For this Saturday night’s blog post we are going to get a bit serious. That is because I believe this week’s topic is something we collectively need to tackle both on and off the web. This week’s topic? Misinformation. 

You may have heard this term and its different forms talked about on the news, online and even in real life. It is a hot topic issue, and it seems like every time it is brought up people are asking “how do we stop it from spreading?” But what exactly is misinformation, and why should we care about it? It is best to know what exactly we are fighting against.

Misinformation is defined by Dictionary.com as, “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” One keyword to point out in that definition is the word “intent”. While the creation of the misleading post or idea started with the intent to mislead, it does not always get shared with that same intent. Oftentimes, those who share these misinformed posts are not sharing with the intent of lying or deceiving.

With that in mind, how do we go about preventing the spread of misinformation, especially within our family and friend groups?

The first step is to learn to spot misinformation for yourself. By learning how to spot the signs of a lie disguised as the truth, you can use the skills to help those around you. Cornell University Library has a helpful infographic on the basics of spotting ‘fake news’. One “step” in spotting ‘fake news’ is checking yourself to see if any of your own beliefs or biases are affecting your judgement. Misinformation thrives off of bias, because we as humans all love being right, don’t we? So be aware of any biases your family and friends may have, and take that into account when you see them sharing misinformation. What beliefs do they hold that could have led them to believe that misleading post they shared?

Another important step towards helping those around you is to consider the sources that you share with them. When fact-checking misinformation, use sources that are unbiased and bipartisan.  Sources like CNN or Fox News can turn people away by just their name being mentioned because of their strong political leanings. Using center leaning or unbias sites like the Associated Press, Pew Research, Reuters and the BBC could help when dealing with someone with strong political biases.

Lastly, the most important thing to remember is that these people unknowingly sharing misinformation are human. It is not always the easiest to hear that something you believed to be true is false and made to deceive you. So approach them with respect and understanding, calling out their mistakes while also using them moment to teach rather than shame. It is often better to privately talk to the person about what they shared than to publicly point it out. 
I hope today’s blog has given you a few tips on how to tackle the spread. Before we go, I would like to share the Los Angeles Public Library’s blog post with further tips on how to help family and friends who might have fallen for the misinformation trap. It specifically calls out election misinformation, but the tip can be applied to any form and flavor misinformation comes in.

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