Day 53: How do we stop the spread of misinformation?

By now you’ve probably heard about this conspiracy theory documentary floating around called “Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind Covid-19.” I saw friends debunking it before I ever got a chance to watch the video, and now it’s been removed from YouTube and Facebook. This, however, isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the spread of misinformation. It happens all the time. Social media platforms are receiving criticism for their handling of the situation saying that removing such is a violation of our first amendment rights, but if the spread of lies, conspiracies, and half-truths is putting people at risk, then what else is there to do than remove it? If we can’t count on people to do the research for themselves and think critically, how else can we protect them from the spread of potentially harmful misinformation? 
Fact checking sites like Politifact and Medium have already done a lot to debunk this video, but the damage is done. It’s already been viewed by over tens of millions and shared across social media platforms. In the video, Dr. Judy Mikovits, discusses various conspiracy theories linked to the coronavirus and makes wild claims about its origin. A basic search of the claims will reveal a mix of lies embedded in half truths with a scientific spin from an actual doctor. Misinformation like this is incredibly harmful especially if its encouraging sinophobia or negligence in preventing the virus from spreading such as discouragement of wearing masks, etc. Whenever I encounter politically-fueled rhetoric such as this I like to go to the source. In this case, the source is a production company called Elevate run by Mikki Willis. This isn’t the first conspiracy video produced by this company. There are many others. We might not always be able to shut down companies that crank out lies and half-truths, but we can stop the spread. 
Some might consider the spread of lies via social media a nuisance, but it can have long-lasting, deadly consequences. Consider, for instance, the anti-vaxxers (also alluded to in the Plandemic video. Ignorance is not bliss, especially when it impacts society. Are we going to start living in an age where information is highly censored or controlled by the government? Some would say we already live in that age, but remember there are still people who believe the Earth is flat, so how much good has trying to control falsehoods online really done? Psychology Today gives some insight into the phenomenon of misinformation. It spreads like a virus and does damage much in the same way. In the article, advice is given about what to do when one encounters falsehoods online and how to stop it from spreading. 
First, we must understand the issue. Oftentimes fake news and misleading memes are spread unintentionally. Other times it’s a choice being made for political or personal reasons. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, the more an inaccurate piece of information is shared, the more people will believe in it. And if you know anything about cognitive dissonance, then you’ll know once a person is inclined to believe in something, it’s almost impossible to change their minds despite all the facts, research, and experts contradicting what they’ve chosen to believe. 
There are two suggestions for preventing this from happening. The first one is to hold social media platforms accountable. Inaccurate information or false claims must be reported and called out. It’s not enough for the every day person to do their part, but there is an enormous responsibility from these sites to stop the spread. However, we as individuals also have a responsibility to thoroughly research the origins, intentions, and claims made by the articles we read, the memes we share, and the videos we watch. It’s time consuming, yes, but ultimately worth it in the end. So before you hit the share button, how can you know what you’re seeing is fully accurate, unbiased, and scientifically supported? Ask yourself these questions
1.) What is the source? Is that source politically fueled or a regular news site? Beware of any person or organization leaning too far left or right or is funded by a politically party or organization.
2.) What’s the intention? Again, it’s not hard to tell if a message is meant to enrage or encourage a person in any political direction. 
3.) Where else is the story being reported? If you’re not seeing the information reported on a reputable news site like BBC, then you should question its authenticity. 
4.) Are the claims being made supported in the scientific community? It’s not difficult to do the research for yourself. Can you debunk the information by conducting a quick search of the facts? 
5.) Are you biased? Sometimes we want to believe something is true because it supports a personal view, but this is not critical thinking. Ask yourself if you believe the information because it’s true or because it suits your beliefs. 
And finally, what should you do if you encounter a friend sharing fake information online? Most articles will tell you that pointing out that person is wrong is not always effective. If you know the person is reasonable and open to facts, you may try this approach. Otherwise, I would suggest reporting the content in order to have it removed. It’s a shame that in today’s age people are so skeptical of the experts, but it’s a reality we all must face. Take the time to do your own research and don’t be shy to call out potentially harmful falsehoods online. 

 

 

 

 

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