(Editor’s note: Continuing our series on media literacy, this article will explore the need for consumers to be informed about the reliability of news from various sources.)
Just last week, the Department of Homeland Security formed a Disinformation Governance Council. As Associated press reported, the council was created to counter false and misleading information regarding fake news from Russia as well as US immigration policy.
The announcement drew a wave of mixed reactions. Proponents believe the agency is needed to expose Russia’s spread of false information – in some cases to cover up atrocities – regarding the war in Ukraine.
As AP explained, false information spread on social media can be used to drive the human trafficking economy by intentionally misleading immigrants coming to the United States.
Others see the council as a way to limit free speech, creating a dystopian environment much like author George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” in his novel “1984.”
The creation of the Disinformation Governance Board, along with billionaire Elon Musk who recently bought the social media platform Twitter with the stated intention of “protecting free speech”, has put conversations about false and misleading information at the forefront. map of American speech.
The conversations may seem reminiscent of the 2016 US presidential election, when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump popularized the term “fake news.”
In 2019, the Oxford English Dictionary added it as an entry, defining “fake news” as “originally American news that conveys or incorporates false, fabricated, or deliberately misleading information, or that is characterized or accused of doing so”.
Yet, as the Oxford English Dictionary and Yonty Friesem — co-founder of the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition and adjunct professor at Columbia College — point out, the essence of this definition dates back to well before 2016.
“People think ‘fake news’ started only five years ago,” Friesem said. “Since the beginning of journalism, people have manipulated information and used that information (for specific purposes)… ‘Fake news’ has been politicized, so it’s very common and easy to say ‘Oh, that’s fake news’, but (it is) simply diminishing and reducing a much more complex phenomenon which has different objectives.
First Draft, an organization that educates about harmful misinformation, calls this phenomenon “information disorder.” This broad term includes everything from propaganda to rumors to manipulated media.
With radically different opinions on what constitutes disinformation, the modern media consumer is faced with the difficult task of determining what is “real”.
At what price ?
The intent behind the dissemination of information is an important distinction between misinformation, misinformation, and misinformation. Claire Wardle, co-founder of First Draft, wrote in one of the organization’s publications that misinformation – intentionally false information designed to cause harm – is often motivated by money, political influence or to wreak havoc.
Misinformation is truthful information with the intent to cause harm.
Wardle said not all fake news is spread with malicious intent. Misinformation, Wardle said, is false content shared by someone who doesn’t know it’s false or misleading. Misinformation usually happens when misinformation is shared.
Yet, just because one does not intend to harm does not mean that sharing false or misleading information does not have repercussions.
“I think over the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of horrible examples of people being misinformed about their health and they’ve died because of it,” Friesem said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An article published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research said with an overabundance of false and misleading information on the internet regarding false claims of COVID-19 (perhaps the most bizarre being that an abundance of raw garlic could prevent infection, leading an elderly woman to chemically burning your tongue), strategies that have been championed as effective by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as masking and social distancing, are being thrown to the wayside.
Not only are public health organizations drowning in a sea of abundant information, but the seemingly mixed messages that come with an evolving health crisis and political interference can also complicate trust, National Public Radio reported.
While studies show that COVID mRNA vaccines effectively prevent serious diseases, false and misleading information about the pandemic continues to propel vaccine hesitancy and refusal, the Journal of Internet Medical Research said.
Violence can also stem from an information disorder, Friesem said.
“There are people who are misinformed about different facts and then act violently thinking it would fix a problem that was made up online,” Friesem said.
Fake content perpetuated for political gain – to discredit then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was Edgar Welch’s reasoning for firing shots inside a pizzeria in northwest Washington. The plot to which Welch subscribed is known as “Pizzagate”.
False child abduction rumors circulating on WhatsApp raised suspicion to a level that led a mob to kill a man and injure two others in India in 2018.
The men simply offered candy to the schoolchildren as they passed through a rural community, the Washington Post reported.
Avoid the trap
Friesem said sharing misinformation is particularly common in one age group.
“The majority of people spreading misinformation are 65 and older and are on Facebook — it’s not kids using TikTok or Instagram,” Friesem said.
There are also things one can do to ensure they don’t fall prey to false and misleading information, Friesem said.
“Never re-share because you’re emotional, and that goes for everything,” Friesem said. “We can get emotionally activated very quickly and we always have to calm down if we want to react thoughtfully.”
Next, he recommended that media consumers investigate the allegations further.
“I’m not talking about doing academic research for three hours, but it will literally take a minute to go to the media that has the opposite point of view to yours and see if that information is there. Then look at a third (source). If it’s out of all three, you can see it’s probably true,” Friesem said.
When determining if information is true, it’s also important to keep in mind that personal opinions can cloud judgment, said Michael Spikes of the Illinois State chapter of Media Literacy Now and co-founder of the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition.
“We may have predispositions to believe some people more than others,” Spikes said. “Let’s say we have a family member…we may have a predisposition to want to believe that person more than to say an outside source, even if it was a source of information.”
Spikes said that compared to other forms of media, news – if done correctly – possesses certain qualities that enhance its credibility.
“One: they check the information they get to make sure it’s credible and reliable with a number of direct sources of evidence, and then they present that evidence to the public,” Spikes said. “Second: They are independent, which means they have no direct relationship with anyone who might have an interest in the outcome of the story or the product they produce… The third thing is that they are responsible. If they make a mistake, they are clear and upfront with their audience saying, “Yes, we made a mistake, that was the mistake and that’s what we did to fix it.”
For more information on information disorder, visit firstdraftnews.org.
For other articles in this series, click on the relevant link to learn more about the importance of media literacy, examine media mistrust Where the importance of local news coverage.