Information is Everywhere
Modern technology showers us with masses of information that can be forwarded at the push of a button, often with no thought given to accuracy.
Unfortunately, in an online world full of fake news, accuracy and truthfulness may be difficult to determine.
Online news is one of the hardest things to verify. Sometimes early reports that turn out not to be true still circulate on the Internet, and people may spread false reports for commercial or malicious reasons, or even just for “fun.”
Social Media Algorithms Promote Fake News
Facebook's algorithms have made it much too easy for an extremely small number of very active users to massively influence what other people see in their feeds.
If you're invited to join a Facebook QAnon group your feeds will suddenly be full of QAnon posts — all done without any confirmation or engagement on your part.
Never before has there been so much incorrect information (if not downright lies) flowing into people's lives.
We only see what we want to see on social media — what we already agree with. Our feeds often contain no alternative viewpoints.
Posts are guided more by emotion than hard evidence. Opinions are stated as facts.
The belief that everyone sees a different “truth” and demands to be sheltered from alternative points of view should concern everyone.
Truth has degraded into post-truth where emotion and what we believe is seen as more important than the facts.
January 6 Riots in Washington
Consider the January 6, 2021 riots in Washington, DC as an example. This event was seen by Democrats as an attempted insurrection while Republicans thought it was about protecting democracy and the US Constitution.
Facts are lost in the discussions on social media:
The Left's Summer of Violence in 2020 injured 15x more police officers, incurred 23x more arrests, and was 1300x more costly than the riot at the Capitol.
— Michelle Tandler on Twitter
How can the viewpoints on such events be so opposite?
Truth Has Become Inconvenient
Truth became an inconvenience in the pursuit of “social justice” and equality.
Critical theory sees all knowledge as social construction. It believes in “discourses” rather than truth. It sees language as capable of inflicting violence if the words support discourses that have been deemed harmful.
It rejects the tenets of liberalism as growing out of, and supporting, bias and bigotry. Debating harmful ideas, according to critical theory, would only increase the damage. The goal is therefore to shut down all harmful discourse.
— Tara Henley
Truth has been replaced by fake news, usually involving political motivation, whether it be a group opposed to government policies or the ambitions of a foreign country.
It threatens trust — the very foundation of democracies everywhere.
Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people's health, and hurts democracy.
You want to ensure that the information you've searched for is accurate and current, especially before your forward it to someone else.
Critical thinking shouldn't just be a synonym for doubting or debunking something, and the point of research isn't simply to poke holes in a story. It's to understand the story better, or — if somebody is telling that story maliciously or incompetently — to get deep enough to find the truth.
— Adi Robertson
History has always been written in the perspective of those writing it.
There's a tendency when you read about history to see it as the capital-T Truth. History books we read in school tend to portray themselves as an objective account of past events. They are anything but.
— Taylor Pearson
- Disinformation is more insidious than we think.
- Why cancel culture threatens our basic freedoms.
- How did we get here?
- History has a history too.
- Metaphors we live by.
- A different way the news is dividing America.
Finding Authoritative Sources
At one time information was published only by authoritative organizations such as the Encyclopedia Britannica.
While you might question the bias of such organizations, it did make decisions about trusting the information less complicated.
The Internet has made it easy for anyone to publish. Websites, blogs and social media are everywhere.
Whether people search for personal health information or for a loved one, millions of consumers view millions of health-related web pages. Sometimes the information found is just what was needed. Other searches end in frustration or retrieval of inaccurate, even dangerous, information.
— Medical Library Association
Today, anyone with a computer or cellphone can become a “publisher” whether or not they have any knowledge or legitimate experience.
You need to educate yourself about how to determine which sources are authoritative: both trusted and knowlegable.
Trust is based upon confidence that the content in a resource is accurate.
A trusted source has a good track record and a clear process for getting facts right, like a reputable news organization.
Expertise requires intimate knowledge of a subject, usually including “lived” experience rather than just book knowledge.
An expert source, like a recognized scientist or health expert, has knowledge of that specific topic. Being an expert in one area doesn't make someone an expert in everything. Would you ask a psychiatrist to replace a filling? — CheckThenShare
Wikipedia is a good example of a trustworthy source. Questionable material is clearly flagged for review.
Authority Sites Usurped
Unfortunately, many former “authority” sites have become nothing more than online infomercials.
Others use fake news to persuade viewers to accept their point of view.
This puts the onus on the reader to verify both the accuracy and the reputation of the site before accepting or promoting its content.
One issue is how the site is paying its bills. What are the products or services offered? Who is sponsoring content.
Site advertising or sponsorship can bias outcomes.
This site does not accept third-party content such as “guest” posts or paid advertising.
One way to verify bias is to seek out the ownership of the site.
- I've discovered that many of the once-decent medical information portals have been purchased or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and the available information has changed.
- Many consumer alert sites, especially related to medical devices, are merely fronts for U.S. law firms looking for clients.
- Some sites promote the interests of cults like Scientology yet don't mention their ownership.
Another method is to compare various sources to see how they agree or disagree on the main points.
- Widespread agreement doesn't necessarily prove validity.
- Conspiracy theories aside, common educational backgrounds and sources of information can lead different researchers to come to the same conclusions, even incorrect ones.
- Examine the information you find with some skepticism. Do your conclusions match what you've read?