We’ve all shared a link—only to find out its contents were outdated or not factually accurate. It happens. Finding credible content online can be challenging. We are aware that many “things” on the Internet aren’t true, and yet our brains still implore us to ‘share’ instantly, without doing any research. We are “busy” people and we want instant gratification—we want to believe that if information is posted by someone we know or a business we like, it must be true. We trust that people and media outlets who are aligned with our political ideologies are creating content that is factual—but no matter who you follow, you’re bound to run into some questionable information.
The Misinformation Boom
2016 was a pivotal year for the Internet—the influence of misleading propaganda via social media was a monster we weren’t prepared for. While a barrage of Trump’s campaign tactics saturated our screens—social media officially became the train wreck we now know it as. The rhetoric intended to rile up Trump’s supporters and get him votes—was also intended to provoke his biggest critics, and it worked. Everyone was sharing and retweeting Trump’s comments without thinking—we were all participating in the spread of that “noise”—keeping the momentum going, keeping the threads brimming with comments. This was truly the dawning of rapid fire, outrage sharing, a.k.a. misinformation.
Here we are, four years later, in the middle of a pandemic, and the act of sharing misleading information shows no signs of slowing down. The spread of misinformation is not only dangerous to those who are most vulnerable, but it is also taxing on organizations who are in place to keep the public safe. When Trump said “it would be interesting to check” if injecting disinfectant could be a possible cure for COVID, it had public health officials scrambling to extinguish the spread of his suggestion. What makes the retweeting and sharing of Trump’s “brilliant” idea especially alarming, is that there are so many people who are feeling incredibly anxious and uncertain right now. Desperation can cause people to do unthinkable things—like drink bleach, which a few people actually did, and died as a result. Hardly a shining example of ‘Presidential’ behaviour.
So, how do we flatten the curve of misinformation?
If there was ever a time to be more conscientious about the information we share online, it would be now. We have the freedom to ‘like’ and ‘share’ what we want, but we also have the ability to be more discerning when it comes to the information we choose to share.
We all are capable of seeking out credible material—it’s as simple as asking ourselves a few questions.
Who posted it?
Who wrote it?
What’s the origin date?
Are there an array of media outlets posting about this topic or is it just your grandma and Fox News?
People will continue to share misinformation as long as social media values outrage over accuracy. Spreading misinformation is up to you. Stop believing people based on the number of followers they have and look for people who post facts, not fiction.
This is the real world, not the Matrix, you don’t get to take the blue pill and wake up tomorrow in a utopia.