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Misinformation in today's world

Misinformation in today's world

 Related Guides: Quickly Evaluate a Book, Quickly Evaluate an Article

 

Introduction

Misinformation or being misinformed dates back centuries, but it wasn’t until the 2016 U.S. Presidential election that brought the term as well as fake news to the forefront of our society.  Now, terms like misinformation, fake news, disinformation, and propaganda are being used on a daily basis. COVID-19 pandemic misinformation has really pushed our society to the limit with people believe that the entire pandemic is fabricated. 

A recent online article published by the American Psychological Association “Psychological studies of both misinformation (also called fake news), which refers to any claims or depictions that are inaccurate, and disinformation, a subset of misinformation intended to mislead, are helping expose the harmful impact of fake news—and offering potential remedies. But psychologists who study fake news warn that it’s an uphill battle, one that will ultimately require a global cooperative effort among researchers, governments, and social media platforms.” (Abrams, 2021)

Source:
Abrams, Z. (2021, March 1). Controlling the spread of misinformation: Psychologists’ research on misinformation may help in the fight to debunk myths surrounding COVID-19. American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/03/controlling-misinformation#

Important Definitions

Misinformation

Information that is false though not deliberately; that is created inadvertently or by mistake. 

Source:  Stengel. R. (2019). Information wars: How we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. 

Disinformation

The deliberate creation and distribution of information that is false and deceptive in order to mislead an audience. 

Source:  Stengel. R. (2019). Information wars: How we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Propaganda

Information that may or may not be true that is designed to engender support for a political view or an ideology.

Source:  Stengel. R. (2019). Information wars: How we lost the global battle against disinformation & what we can do about it. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Fake News

Fake news has become a term used for anything you dislike or disagree with.

“False Information intentionally or inadvertently so is neither new nor the result of new technologies. It is easier to spread more quickly, but the responsibility for sifting facts from fiction lies with the person receiving that information and it always will” Anonymous from Pew Research Center report.


SKILLS TO RECOGNIZE MISINFORMATION  

 

INFORMATION HYGIENE AND INFO-ENVIRONMENTALISM

The term information hygiene refers to the “metaphorical handwashing you engage in to prevent the spread of misinformation” (Caulfield, “It Can Take”).

This idea has gained prominence in recent years, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we have witnessed a massive outbreak of misinformation, disinformation, hoaxes, and conspiracies surrounding this coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other experts have even referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as an “infodemic”—an epidemic of information. In their February 2020 Novel Coronavirus Situation Report, the WHO noted that the COVID-19 outbreak and response “has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’—an over-abundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”

This is a stark example of the real-world impact that our online information can have. In this case, false information that we view, “like,” and share can actually help to shape the public perceptions about the pandemic, as well as our responses and decisions about how to behave. Can you think of any other recent examples that demonstrate the real-world impact of disinformation?

Icon showing bottle of hand sanitizer

So, the message here is that, in addition to actual hygiene, we also need to focus on information hygiene and “flattening the curve of dangerous falsehoods online by taking proactive steps to reduce their spread” (“Practice Information Hygiene”). Fact-checking, which we will discuss in the next chapter, is an example of good information hygiene. Much like hand sanitizer or hand washing, it isn’t a cure, but rather a prevention for the spread of misinformation (Caulfield, “Misinformation”).

 

Info-Environmentalism

The idea behind “info-environmentalism” is that if our information environment is polluted, we shouldn’t abandon it—instead, we should help to clean it up. That is, if we are frustrated with the content posted on platforms like Facebook or YouTube or with low-quality Google search results, why not clean it up by posting as much reliable information as we can?

Of course, a big part of this movement will involve putting pressure on the platforms themselves to act responsibly. But because the Web is a collectively-maintained and produced environment, we, as consumers and creators, can also participate in the process through direct action. Here are some examples of actions you might take to improve the information environment (Caulfield, “Info-Environmentalism”):

Icon showing recycle/reuse logo and a green sprout

  • Minimize your own “misinformation footprint” by being more thoughtful about what you post and share on social media. Do a quick fact-check first.
  • Shift your focus from arguing points to explaining things to others.
  • Edit and improve Wikipedia articles.
  • Create explanatory YouTube videos.
  • Post pages on blogs or wikis that provide helpful guidance on important issues.
  • Post better answers on question-and-answer websites like Quora or StackExchange.
  • When you do share information, use evidence and cite your sources.

Information on this page is from:

Introduction to College Research by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted. CC BY