Today’s Solutions: October 26, 2021

Unfortunately, coronavirus is not immune from the online breeders of misinformation and “fake news.” At this uncertain time, it is important that the information we absorb is reliable and accurate so we can make informed personal and societal decisions about how to best proceed. The Optimist Daily is working hard to ensure that the stories we bring you are verified. Here are 10 ways to spot misinformation online as you browse media sources.

  1. Did the post spark anger, disgust, or fear? News can trigger strong emotional responses, but if your initial feeling is an outrage, take a deep breath and look to verify the information on other sites before you accept it as fact. Check it especially if you’ve only read the headline. It could be exaggerated clickbait.
  2. Did it make you feel good? We hate to say it, but even good news isn’t always true. Pay extra attention to stories that call you to action such as “only 1% of people will share this story.”
  3. Is it hard to believe? Astronomer and author Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If your immediate instinct is doubt, definitely double-check the information.
  4. Did it confirm your beliefs? Our brains are wired to trust what we already believe. Make sure to ask yourself if the information is legitimate or just easily digestible. And remember, just because something is widely shared doesn’t necessarily make it true.
  5. Spelling and grammar. A lack of spell check often goes hand in hand with a lack of fact-checking. Even the best editors miss the occasional mistake, but frequent errors and wide font variety should make you apprehensive. 
  6. Was it a meme? Yes, they can be funny, but memes are the medium of humor, opinion, and attention-seeking, not news. Aside from lacking nuance, these mediums have been used in more dangerous capacities by extremist groups to attract younger audiences. 
  7. What’s the source? There is a whole spectrum of media reliability and bias. Just because something is accurate, doesn’t mean it is not biased. Use The Media Bias/Fact Check website to verify your source and assess it yourself by asking critical questions such as, “does it present facts fairly?” and “does it take all sides of the issue into account?”
  8. Who said it? Politicians, officials, and even your relatives may not always tell the truth. Look to see if a fact-checking site has verified the information in a speech or announcement and use intelligent listening skills even if the information is coming from a friend or family member. They probably don’t mean to share false information, they most likely don’t know their information is unverified.
  9. Is there a hidden agenda? Read varied sources and make sure what you are reading is really non-partisan.
  10.  Have you checked the facts? Starting with simple facts is a great way to begin assessing a source. Snopes and FactCheck work well.

Last week we shared a story about how tech giants are joining together to stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, but it isn’t just tech and media companies responsible for verifying information. Be a vigilant reader and double-check the information you are taking in, especially if you plan on sharing it.

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