Be care to evaluate
information you receive and share
We live in strange times, but one key to keeping your head through all the chaos is staying well informed.
With a public health crisis raging, it’s easy for people to become panicked and hysterical. That kind of behavior doesn’t help anyone and can lead to such foolishness as panic buying and parroting of falsehoods.
But how does one stay well-informed? Many people assume they can Google something, and an endless fountain of true information will be at their fingertips. In truth, the Internet is flooded with misinformation designed to manipulate public opinion for political, financial or social gain.
So how do you determine if your news is the real deal?
First you need to look at your own biases before you judge the news you are reading. All people have prejudices based on their experiences and environment. Knowing your self-interests is key in making rational decisions and evaluating information.
Next you need to consider the source itself. What is its track record? Does it have noticeable bias? Consider the motives of the source. Publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times and other well-established sources will invariably be a better bet than a conspiracy website. Be especially wary of fringe or extremist sources.
Next you should make sure the information you are consuming is being reported by multiple credible sources, not just one. Always be wary of any big “news” that only appears in one place. If possible, read the details of the story from several sources with different political stances (not just the one you lean towards).
Never rely on a headline to give you the full story. Headlines are designed to give the highlights of the story, condensed into a limited number of characters of type. You need to read the full article in order to judge the content.
Established publications and news sources use fully identified reporters and legitimate experts whose background can be verified. Fake news often has no byline listing the author or source.
Check the date on the articles you read. Is the date closed to the timeframe in which the events happened? Often during a crisis or big world event, older articles with seemingly related information are circulated online and lead to the spread of misinformation on a topic.
Make sure you know if you are reading actual news, as opposed to an opinion piece. Free speech protects even misinformation, so fact checking can be vital. There are several options for fact checking out there, such as FactCheck, Snopes, Politifact and the Washington Post Fact Checker.
But even a fact checker has the potential to misreport so don’t assume the fact checker’s word is gospel. Using multiple fact checkers to confirm something can give you extra assurances about its credibility.
In a time when many of us are confined to our homes, the Internet and social media can become a double-edged sword. Although it can help us communicate in the face of quarantines or social distancing, it also creates a breeding ground for false information.
During the second week of March, articles claiming Nancy Pelosi held up the stimulus package over extra funding for abortion circulated quickly across Facebook. The claims, made in a headline, were false. And the headline was obviously written to encourage people with pro-life leanings to share it.
Messenger reporters witnessed dozens of Sanpete County residents helping spread false information, which often led to social-media quarrels between residents who were pro-choice and pro-life.
All that could have been avoided if the people who shared it took the time to discern if the article and the source spreading it were credible.
When in doubt, look to community news sources, as opposed to the Internet. A local news source is more invested in its community than a big news corporation or a distant blogger on the web.
The Messenger remains devoted to reporting the truth. We constantly verify everything from name spellings to what was said in public meetings. While we may not cover national news, you can count on us to try our hardest to get it right when it comes to Sanpete County.
Inaccurate information spread across social media by uninformed readers promoting their personal biases can become a virus itself, as dangerous to society as the coronavirus is to personal health.