Guard Against Misinformation

Misinformation is not new. The danger is always there. The Internet now allows the public to access and receive false news more easily and quickly than ever before, then shared. Beware of:

  • Misleading News
  • False Reports
  • Conspiracy Theories

For example, a Russian official denied that Russia had bombed a theatre recently. He had been out of the country, visiting a Western country and was being interviewed for a live video news clip. The reporter interviewing him, assured him that it was true, in fact the live video clip of the bombing had already aired on television. He continued stating no, not possible, at which point I let the screen go black.

Photo by / Markus Spiske

For some, deceiving the public is fun. They defend their articles, stories and videos, by explaining slowly, as to a naive child, that they were created under the banner of entertainment. Lesson? Yes! Do not believe everything you see or hear. We must become careful. Media moguls are the first to warn us that most of the misinformation researchers encounter, are features where media manipulates context. We are told that this happens often with ‘memes’. Lesson? Yes. Evaluate source and content before believing or forwarding a story, even one that is popular or repeated in the news; verify that it is true. Note: the example I mentioned at the top of this post is true. I viewed both clips myself. Both were on location and the people involved were definitely not actors. It is true, that news media companies and other organizations may slant a story to be more in line with a certain commercial or political bias. If the report seems oversimplified or if a report is written to evoke an emotional reaction, you may want to check for dates, verifiable facts and other evidential material. Need a reason? According to an official at the UN: “Fact-checking now is as important as hand washing.”

What they are pleading for us to do is this: make sure that the line between fact and opinion is not blurred and that both sides of a story are told before sharing, repeating, or reprinting.

Image by / Sumanley Xulx

Fake news, false news, biased news, whichever way it is circulated, has an effect on the reader; their thoughts and actions. We tend to trust information that confirms what we want to believe. Internet companies, newspaper conglomerates, magazine, television and media empires, book publishers are owned and operated by people capable of being thoughtful and rational, but, our demands, wishes, fears, likes, desires and motivations often move them to produce what we want to read. Most of us share with others what we like and if we unintentionally pass along false information the consequences can be harmful.

Shauna Bowes is a research psychologist. She made this comment when asked about conspiracy theories: “Conspiracy theories are playing a bigger role in people’s thinking and behavior possibly more than ever.”

A conspiracy theory, as I was taught it, is a claim that sinister and powerful groups have secretly plotted, to cause a significant or tragic event. History has demonstrated that these theories are capable of eroding trust in legitimate sources of information. No longer considered reliable, the information being offered is rejected. Once, a source of advice in financial matters, for health conditions, when choosing vacations, before buying a house, when planning a funeral or a wedding; a source for a time when honesty was imperative has now become suspect. Conspiracy theories can foster prejudice and violence against those thought to be involved in the conspiracy. They ruin lives.

Thank-you Pixabay for Photo

When unsettling times are upon us as they are now, conspiracy theories are many and far reaching in scope and effect. Because everything is in flux and the future so very uncertain, they have resurfaced and become popular once again. They validate what the general public believes is happening and they help people understand why bad things happen. They dispel the anxiety and uncertainty while easing the hardship.

At any time of the day billions upon trillions of bits of information are being accumulated and arranged into compact collections of news and knowledge; useful and useless, true and false. Cultivate discernment so that you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

There was a cartoon that appeared in a popular magazine published and printed in 1993. The cartoon showed two dogs sitting in front of a computer. One dog says to the other dog, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

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