Protecting Yourself from Misinformation Online
The Internet is a wonderful place. It gives us all the freedom to express ourselves and share information and our ideas with the rest of the world. The fact that you don’t have to get your every blog post and status update past some sort of censorship board is a good thing. But that means nobody is protecting you from misinformation either.
New parents tend to be hypersensitive to information that relates to the wellbeing of their children. This is a good thing. That protective instinct saves kids’ lives. Unfortunately, it also means we’re likely to believe exaggerated or fabricated threats to our little ones' safety.
News outlets and charlatans know we’re a juicy target. They blow their messages out of proportion (or they flat out lie) to yank on our parental instincts. It’s a tactic as old as time: create fear, exploit fear, profit.
To make matters worse, along comes social media. We stumble upon a story that triggers our protective instincts by making us afraid, and we share it with all our friends immediately. The people putting the bad info online don’t even have to work hard to spread their message. We’re doing it for them.
So what can we do about this? How do we protect ourselves from bad info online? The first, and best, way to avoid falling prey to a predatory story is to adopt scepticism as your default mode when you’re scrolling through headlines. Don’t believe anything you read at first. Instead, if a story strikes a cord with you, look into what it claims and check other sources. Do you have a friend who’s a sceptic? Run it by them and see what they think.
The second thing we need to do is remember that everyone online has an agenda. It’s up to us as individuals to examine people and organizations and figure out what their agenda is. Not every corporation, blogger, celebrity doctor, and guru is an un-credible monster. There is some integrity out there—people who don’t sacrifice the truth and due process in the name of making a buck. Find those people and share what they have to say.
That brings me to the last thing we all need to start doing. Think twice—even three times—before you share something on social media. Do the research, find the sources, and check the credentials. You’re not doing your friends any good by spreading false fear. If you don’t have time to check a story out, don’t share it.
If more and more of us approach information online with a little more caution, the fear-exploit-profit model becomes less and less effective. We can make integrity the most profitable policy—it only takes a little scepticism.