Somewhat strangely, I find the results of a recent poll to be encouraging. I guess that speaks volumes about the world in which we find ourselves, but I will take what I can get.
A national poll indicated that 91% of adults believe the spread of misinformation is a problem. More of a surprise was the political consensus: 80% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans say that misinformation tends to enhance extreme political views. Those interviewed also agree that hate crimes and violence based on race and gender are negatively affected by untrue statements.
So, there is a strong majority who believe that misinformation is wrong and dangerous. An important unanswered question, though, is who is the source of this dangerous tactic? Do those in one political party blame those on the other side of the aisle? I can't find the answer to that inquiry in the study recap. Even so, logically, I am willing to bet that, yes, the source of misinformation is often believed to be one's political enemy. And, that is a whole other issue and post.
But, let me focus on a rare point of agreement among our fellow citizens: misinformation, non-truths, exploitive exaggerations, and statements taken out of context are harmful. The study does identify the Internet and social media as the primary source of this stuff. In fact, up to three-quarters of those asked said they have not forwarded or shared something because of questions of its legitimacy.
From these points of consensus maybe there is a way forward, a path that isn't littered with truth decay. There are a few steps each of us can take before we hit the share button, repeat something we heard from a friend, or believe the oft-repeated story on the Internet. While it feels good to validate our beliefs about some particular evil or nefarious activity, there is some understanding of the potential for making things worse.
One way is to "fact check" something that seems too good to be true, or maybe too outrageous to be real. Most of us wouldn't click on the tab that promotes a $99 roundtrip to Hawaii, there is clearly a catch or a scam involved. Using that same sense of logic, it isn't hard to discern the truth behind that titillating headline on social media or the "I just heard" comment overheard at the grocery store.
Start here: The Arlington Heights Memorial Library has an excellent overview of fact-checking and links to a few of the most-trusted sites. In particular, I like the CRAAP Test. You know the "if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...." The CRAAP acronym helps you use your own natural intelligence and common sense to uncover that "duck."
The Associated Press has an extensive website that reviews not only the most talked about stories of the week but basic educational information on things like using absentee ballots and election rules...particularly important leading up to November 8th.
A fascinating resource is Medawise. This non-partisan outfit offers free tutorials on how to spot fake news from any source and make yourself a more discerning consumer of information. It has a separate Teen Network for helping young people navigate the dangerous waters of social media. something a grandchild or a parent might find helpful. There are sections designed especially for seniors. It is worth taking a look.
An approach I find helpful to separate the real from the fanciful is to read from several sources on each side of the major political divide. Look for key giveaways like "alleged," "one source reports, "unconfirmed information." Each of these gives me a clue that the story or piece of a story is potentially speculative or unproven. Those trigger phrases prompt me to check more sources to see who else may have more details.
If I can't verify what I have read, I do not resend it, repost it, or use it as the basis for a snarky putdown on Facebook. I am not saying this statement is untrue, I am simply refusing to further its spread until I am convinced of its veracity.
If the poll numbers I quoted at the beginning of this post are accurate (and I did check that this story was not from just one source), then the bulk of us understand the harm misinformation can cause. As individuals, what we can do is not be part of the problem by spreading, amplifying, or keeping alive something that can hurt people.
I am quite aware that there will be some who read my words and suggest I am naive. "They" want me to put a lid on the spread of important facts. Fact-checking is run by the "them" who want to keep us powerless. Even though it comes from two very well-respected organizations, this poll is bogus.
I have no magic words to change that way of seeing the world. I cannot make conspiracy theories or fear of "The Other" go away. What I can do is not be part of the mechanism that spreads fear, mistrust, lies, half-truths, and offensive BS.
Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, apolitical folks....the labels don't protect us from truth erosion. Incendiary rhetoric can come from anyone at any time.
All I can do is try to keep myself from being one of the sources. I am asking you to consider doing the same.
I do a great deal of fact-checking. And I report lies that are posted on FB.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the additional Fact-Check sites. I've consistently used Snopes.
I have heard of Snopes but never checked it out...until now.Delete
I consider all news fake news. Sadly people are going to believe what they want to believe and facts do not matter.ReplyDelete
Fake news has been around along time, it use to be reserved for the checkout line at the grocery store. Elvis spotted at Walmart, etc.
As long as it was the "Elvis is alive and living in Michigan" type of inconsequencial fluff, there was little harm.Delete
But when attitudes
about no information is believable became more mainstream, things shifted to serious and democracy-threatening. If no information is trustworthy we will not be able to function as a country and as individuals.
Important post. But isn't it weird that people on both the far left and the far right believe that those who oppose them are their enemy and a threat to American way of life, when those beliefs are based on inaccurate, biased, manipulated and sometimes just plain false information . . . sometimes from the Russian disinformation machine that exists to sow discord in the West. Anyway, thanks for the links which could be useful for our blogs, our discussions and even our casual conversations.ReplyDelete
You are very welcome. Disinformation isn't restricted to one party, one news source, or one group of people. It is a disease with only one known cure: truth.Delete
If only I could get my in laws to read your blog post. They are very caught up in various fake news ideas and frequently forward us article and videos from questionable sources. I used to think this was harmless years ago but now believe it's truly a problem. Especially when my mother in law, a retired doctor, sends out misinformation about medical topics and antivax propaganda. When it's egregious I try to direct her to more reputable sources, but it doesn't ever stop her.ReplyDelete
Fascinating. In research your mil would be considered a primary source. I wonder if she shakes her head and thinks you are hearing misinformation. I know I was taught early on not to trust big pharma. Always investigate. Always listen to all the reasons from both sides.Delete
What has happened is that disinformation/untruth becomes a closed loop, feeding and strengthening itself.Delete
Once someone moves a certain distance away from reality, they have too much personal identity and pride invested to give up that position. Even faced wirh contradictory evidence they are likely to dig in even deeper.
Yes, The Emperor has No Clothes is a great story that proves your point. It is the case of a primary source goes against the believed norm. That was the example I was given at the National Archives when learning why primary sources are necessary. We studied the McCarthy Era. In medicine, doctors are primary sources, not pharma.Delete
Thank you for this important post, the links, and the hope.ReplyDelete
I "hope" my hope proves to not be just a dream.Delete
This was a great statement you made in response to a comment above: "Disinformation isn't restricted to one party, one news source, or one group of people. It is a disease with only one known cure: truth." Very thoughtful comments and responses to an excellent post. I have nothing to add to the wisdom already expressed except appreciation.ReplyDelete
And appreciation is very much encouraged and welcomed!ReplyDelete
I'm not sure what to think about "truth decay." I tend to believe that the best defense against misinformation is critical thinking, a capacity often developed through education. Sometimes I am concerned that our educational institutions have, despite the best efforts of some of those in the institutions, become less committed to independent, critical thought. Access to multiple sources and perspectives can help uncover truth, but I'm sure some would argue that there is no such thing as truth -- only perspective and power. Ultimately, for me, the individual's ability to evaluate is one of the best defenses to understanding the world around us. I also think Americans tend to be less concerned about the development of the mind and more concerned about consumerism. This impulse will work against critical thought and the pursuit of the mind. Hopefully, I am wrong in this assessment.ReplyDelete
Unfortunately, I think your assessment is correct. In terms of education, I put the blame on politicians, school administrators, and parents that want to enforce their interpretations on others. The teachers I have known want nothing more than to be given the supplies and freedom to teach the full spectrum of thought.Delete
For too many I am afraid "critical thinking" becomes criticism of thinking. There is a world of different between those two phrases.
I try never to post anything I haven't verified, but I'm never sure what the best way is to respond to misinformation or distortions of truth posted by friends and acquaintances. I have found it works better for me to fact-check or push back against something posted by someone I generally agree with; in many cases, they will take it down once I point out the misinformation. Where misinformation is posted by someone that I'm separated from by a bigger political divide, however, pushing back is trickier because I've found they are more likely to dig in their heels and because the algorithms used by social media sites like Facebook actually give a post more exposure if it generates discussion. I've read that the best course of action is not to reply to the problematic post but to post the truth separately on my own page.ReplyDelete