"Fake News" What is misinformation & how to spot it
Written by Brian Beckcom
Misinformation is defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as incorrect or misleading information. As social media platforms begin facing public backlash from civil rights groups and congressional pressure for their role in perpetuating misinformation campaigns, the topic of “fake news” seems to be at the top of everyone’s agenda. We hear the buzz about “fake news” almost daily but rarely do these political pundits provide folks with helpful advice.
As an attorney with decades of experience battling negligent corporations and insurance adjusters, I know a thing or two about identifying false information. I navigate through deception and false information everyday. Here are 3 easy tips you can use to spot misinformation:
Be skeptical. Remember the phrase “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, the same can be said about information, never accept it to be true just because it appears to be true. It’s important to remember that you can have skepticism without being cynical. Approach information with healthy hesitation by taking the time to check the sources and compare it with other credible publications. It’s always best practice to collect information from more than one news outlet (even if you have a favorite).
Know what platforms misinformation thrives in. We know Social Media platforms have been caught in the crossfire of the outrage, but why? To understand why “fake news’ thrives on social media we must look at their business model: More users = more money. Social media companies do not care if what you’re reading is true. They only care that you continue reading on their platform and they are happy to provide you with garbage content as long as you continue coming back. Their business model depends on engagement, not ethics or integrity.
Recognize that certain topics, like certain platforms, can be prone to misinformation too. Peter Adams, Senior Vice President of Education at the News Literacy Project, a non-partisan and non-profit organization that teaches students how to know what to believe in the digital age, says “If something is causing you to be fearful or outraged and to experience strong emotions like that, take a moment and maybe do a quick web search to see if it's been debunked or if anyone else is reporting it who is credible.” Oftentimes, hot-button issues are prone to misinformation due to their complexity and political polarity.
So great, you now know how to spot misinformation. But what if a friend or family member is spreading misinformation? What can you do then?
How to respond to misinformation?
Nobody likes the “Well Actually” guy or folks who are “fake woke” like the kids are saying these days. This can make it difficult to engage with friends and family members who’ve been spreading misinformation on Facebook or even at the family table on Thanksgiving. Surely you want to correct the behavior and prevent misinformation from spreading, but how? Now, I can’t say this will work every time but here’s how I approach this situation:
Verify Verify Verify. If you’re planning on correcting someone you better be right! Identify the hot-button issue, acknowledge & assess the platform, and compare the information in question with other credible sources. You can’t expect to be persuasive if you haven’t done your homework. Always verify.
Establish common ground. Before trying to inform someone, make a connection with them and start a meaningful conversation. Responding to misinformation with hostility doesn’t help your case (or anyone’s for that matter). Your goal should be to educate, not to “win”. On that same note, these confrontations tend to get… well confrontational because we are accustomed to having them in the public eye. Either on Facebook or in front of peers. I can assure you that a private conversation will not only be more pleasant for everyone involved but it will be more fruitful too.
Just be nice. Humble yourself, we’ve all been wrong about something before. We’ve all shared an article with a great headline without actually reading it. Misinformation is alive and well in the digital age and combatting it takes an extreme amount of discipline and a bounty of resources that are sometimes not accessible to everyone. Know that everyone’s exposure and life experience has shaped their world view and that changing someone’s beliefs is often very difficult to do. Always proceed with sensitivity and kindness.