Weekly Blog April 5th, 2020: Recognizing Misinformation

Hello Internet!

I hope you had a wonderful week and you are continuing to stay inside or away from other people. I realize that many years for now, it might be strange if you went back and read this Weekly Blog.  Like, hope you are doing well but are not coming in contact with others. Anyway, we’re still dealing with a pandemic so everyone needs to stay safe and healthy. Luckily I have spent most of my time home playing Animal Crossing so that’s keeping my spirits up. I also have time to write so that’s why I’m uploading on a regular basis.

Speaking of uploading, let me quickly go over what pieces I’ve published this past week just in case you are new here or somehow missed them! First, last Sunday, I published a Weekly Blog where I sent my gratitude to all the hard working individuals who have to work during this pandemic. I want to keep extending those feelings of gratitude to everyone who is currently working. The work you are doing is important and I hope your paycheck reflects that. Thank you again for all you do. On Wednesday, I published a Poem titled “Modern Day Paladins” which is all about the Doctors, Nurses, and Medical Personnel fighting this pandemic. They are modern Paladins tasked with slaying a powerful enemy and I’m glad they are on the front lines fighting this evil. Finally, on Friday, I published a Writing Prompt Piece titled “Chasing The Sun” which is a story between two friends who are unsure of their destinies. Hazel is insistent that she must go to California to live out her dream of being a movie star, but her friend, Adi preaches caution and seems unsure that it’s a smart decision. When Hazel asks Adi to go with her, will Adi stay or chase the sun with Hazel? I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out! I also want to quickly add that this Writing Prompt piece was based off a book of Writing Prompts I received from a friend for Christmas a couple years ago. I get most of my Writing Prompts from Reddit on r/WritingPrompts but I also like to dip into this resource every once in a while because I think it has good Writing Prompts.

Anyway, I wanted to use with Weekly Blog to talk about misinformation on the internet and how to spot it. This past week was April Fool’s Day but I didn’t see a single company (or person I know) participate because we are dealing with the ongoing pandemic. Even I decided to put out a regular poem instead of something special for April Fool’s Day like I had done in years past. It just didn’t seem like a good time to joke on the internet or deliberately lie. Everyone is aware of fake stuff on the internet when it comes to days like April Fool’s Day but that level of skepticism doesn’t seem to be extended to other days of the year. So, since it was April Fool’s Day and it seems like misinformation is all over the internet, I decided to give everyone some tips on spotting and handling misinformation.

First you have to spot misinformation which is hard to do if you don’t know the subject matter the information is covering. If there is a post talking about how the sky is purple, but you know the sky is blue (or seems blue), you can easily spot that as misinformation; however, it isn’t often that cut and dry. Sometimes misinformation comes from blurring the lines of the truth so it is a falsehood that looks true. Other times misinformation doesn’t even care about the facts but instead goes for an emotional response so you don’t even think about what the post is saying before you dive into the comments to share your emotions or share it with your own emotional response attached. It’s very likely that the publisher of the misinformation doesn’t care about informing. They only care about some algorithm or getting attention on their content. Any publicity is good publicity even if it’s negative comments because the algorithm doesn’t check the content. It only sees the engagement. Another thing connected to identifying misinformation is the phrase “If it seems too good to be true it probably is.” We’ve all heard scams about Nigerian Prince’s desperate to give us money, websites giving away free iPhones for being the millionth viewer, or hot singles in your area just dying to talk to you, but this idea of people are trying to actively mislead us can be extended to all corners of the internet. If a post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Skepticism is your best friend when it comes to fighting back against misinformation, but so does the ability to fact check. Now this step takes a little bit more effort, but it’s important to realize that you need to balance information from many sources. This is a big one when it comes to the news or consuming controversial content. When it comes to politics or similar subject matter, you should be getting your news from a variety of different sources spanning the political spectrum. We all know someone who only watches FOX News or only watches CNN. Letting one company or source have complete control over where you get your information is coming from can be really dangerous and may lead to us only believing a fact if it comes from that one source, but not others. Two principals come into play here: Confirmation Bias and Echo Chambers.

Confirmation bias is a personal bias where an individual will see something and if they generally believe it to be true, they will just accept it as fact without doing any other fact checking. For example, if you really like Dogs and a Facebook Post says something about how owning dogs makes people live longer compared to people who own cats, your personal bias will lead you to automatically believe that as fact. You like dogs so why wouldn’t dogs be awesome for us? An echo chamber is an environment where someone only surrounds themselves with people with opinions and beliefs they already have. If you like dogs, you might hang out with a bunch of dog people who also love dogs. This doesn’t seem too bad, but if you only surround yourself with dog people, you may miss out on information relating to cats, fish, birds, or any other pet. This becomes a lot more concerning when it comes to politics or controversial opinions because the people within their echo chamber will just accept their political view as fact and will isolate others who might disagree with them. This can relate in a break down when a liberal echo chamber and a conservative echo chamber clash and both groups believe without a doubt they are right and the others are wrong. There is not an exchange of ideas and valid criticisms, but only stubborn people unwilling to to hear out the other side. So how does all of this relate to misinformation? Well, again, it’s important to be skeptical of things, even if you want to believe them right off the back due to your personal confirmation bias. It’s also important for everyone to seek out multiple sources and try to balance any biases you may have. Leaving your echo chamber and exploring sources outside your normal bubble can give you more insight into how others view the information, feel about it, or even let you know what is and is not being covered within other echo chambers. Again, this takes more effort, but it’s worth it if we want to lessen the power of misinformation.

Last thing I want to add to this discussion about misinformation is that it is important to really dig deep into pieces of media or posts. Do your research! One problem which I think would be easy to fix is that people seem to only read headlines and then base the article or piece of information off of that. I know I’m guilty of this as well. You might see a catchy headline and think one thing, but if you spent time actually reading the article, it might actually say another. This can lead to people sharing the article and saying that this piece of media agrees with their stance when it reality it doesn’t, or the article shares a more nuanced argument. That’s the thing about the world. There is rarely a situation which is cut and dry with obvious right and wrongs. There is usually multiple points of views and shades of gray which definitely makes things more complicated than “I’m right, they’re wrong.” By actually spending the time to read the article before sharing, you can learn a lot more about the subject at hand and gain tools in order to argue the point further if that need arises. Pairing this with doing research outside of the one piece of media and finding other sources that either support or contradict the original article will help you determine whether or not this is legitimate or a piece of misinformation.

One last thing to tag on here (sorry, I know I already said last thing) is that it is also important to not only seek out multiple sources, but also make sure those multiple sources are credible. If your source is just a Facebook post or Blog post, that isn’t enough. Find new stories from journalists or first hand sources from people who were there when the event happened. The closer the source is to the subject matter, the more credible they probably are. Remember that passing information can sometimes turn into a game of telephone where with every hand-off of information, things may change slightly or drastically. Find sources that are more likely to balance their own coverage with others and focuses mostly on facts instead of emotions. Emotions are great, but can sometimes cloud your judgement or be used to play into their need for engagement (like I mentioned earlier). It is alright if you initially get your information from social media or a biased source as long as you do your best to double, triple, or quadruple check that information with other independent sources.

So what can we do as consumers to spot and handle misinformation? Well remember to be skeptical and critical of information. Don’t let your personal biases blind you to outside information which may challenge your previously held point of view. Read the article fully and don’t just go off the headline. Realize that inflammatory statements or controversial comments are often baiting you into engaging without thinking which feeds social media algorithms. Seek out additional information from a wide net of sources including sources you might not engage with a lot while also making sure the sources are credible. There’s nothing we can do to completely get rid of misinformation or get rid of all of our personal biases, but we can try harder to stop the spread of misinformation. Use that level of skepticism you have on April Fool’s Day and maybe we won’t be fooled quite as often by misinformation on the internet.

Thank you for reading that Weekly Blog! I know that it went on for quite awhile, but I’m very passionate about this stuff and I want us all to be smarter consumers on the internet. It’s important for people to be able to spot misinformation and stop it’s spread. If you liked this Weekly Blog or also feel passionate about stopping misinformation, feel free to give at like. I’d really appreciate it! Also if you don’t Follow me here on WordPress, I highly suggest you do. I don’t usually dive this deep into a topic like this, but I do have plenty of other interesting Weekly Blogs as well as Poems, Writing Prompt Pieces, and Fanfiction. If any of that interests you, I’d love for you to become a part of this creative, positive space I’m building here on the internet!

Thank you again for all your support and I hope you have a wonderful week!

-Allen_The_Writer

 

 


Header Photo Credit to ABC News
https://abcnews.go.com/US/ways-spot-disinformation-social-media-feeds/story?id=67784438

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