“Misinformation, a word of self-reflection” was first published at Sunday Business & IT of the Manila Times, December 2, 2018
I associate fake news with misinformation and disinformation. When Dictionary.com unveiled “misinformation” as 2018’s Word of the Year, I thought “disinformation” deserved the spotlight. They deliberately chose “misinformation” over “disinformation”. Their decision is because the word serves as a “call to action”. Why? Every day, social media exposes us to a barrage of misleading news, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and click-bait headlines. I refer to such content as misinformation. We can do something with the misinformation surrounding our social media networks.
Misinformation, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” They define disinformation as “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts, propaganda”. Jane Solomon of Dictionary.com believes understanding the concept of misinformation is crucial “to identifying misinformation as we meet it in the wild, and that could ultimately help curb its impact.” Their rationale for the choice is one can still be a good person with no vicious intent and yet spread misinformation.
Understanding how one shares misinformation in our social network by our friends is a start. I recall the anonymous detailed weather alerts getting the rounds of private messages. Remember the messages of policemen planting sachets of drugs in a car’s trunk? Friends who shared these messages believed them to be true with no intention to mislead. Their post states “I am not sure this is true but it could happen.” Lies interspersed with part truths fools most people. Fake news is never boring. They play into a worldview, an appeal to our emotions. Stories that confirm our worldview are often ones we will share most. It is confirmation bias. When people like a certain idea to be true, they end up believing it to be true. Such error leads one to stop verifying the information when the evidence gathered confirms the views one would like to be true. No wonder hyper-partisans share favorable memes of their idol without verifying facts.
Misinformation is a word of self-reflection, and it can be a call to action, says Solomon. Let us look at possible call to actions.Understand the misinformation ecosystem. First Draft News listed seven types.
- Understand the misinformation ecosystem. First Draft News listed seven types.
- – Satire or parody – no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool.
- – False connection- when headlines, visuals or captions don’t support the content
- – Misleading content- misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual.
- – False context- when genuine content is shared with false contextual information
- – Imposter content- when genuine sources are impersonated.
- – Manipulated Content- when genuine information or imagery is manipulated to deceive
- – Fabricated content- new content is 100% false, designed to deceive and harm
- Make sure you are not following bots or those you follow are not sharing a bot’s post in your timeline. “The spread of low-credibility content by social bot”, a study conducted by Indiana University shows it only takes a few seconds for bots to spread misinformation.
- Call out inauthentic use of social media engagement such as use of bots or trolls.
- Do a little homework before clicking the share button. Check your own biases and how one’s viewpoints can make us see the things we’d like to see. Ask yourself, am I accepting this because of what I believe? Am I believing this because I’m a supporter of the Liberal Party or I’m pro-Duterte?
- Ask yourself, is there another side to this story? What information will make this story complete? Think why the story is one-sided. What might I miss?
- Do a Google search or ask credible sources to check if you are reading real news.
- Take this free online course (firstdraftnews.org/learn) on identifying misinformation. The one-hour course teaches the public how to verify online media, so they don’t fall for hoaxes, rumors and misinformation. Once you complete the course, the next call to action is for you to share the truth.
Take note that the enemy of truth is the half-truth. These are lies coated in generalizations, which may have truth in them but are deceptive. Dictionary.com’s choice is a reminder we should be more discerning, and vigilant. More than vigilance, we need action. We should speak up or else the lies will drown the truth. When not speaking, you are contributing to the misinformation. By not speaking up, you are allowing the lie or half-truth to spread. Truth doesn’t have a time of its own. There’s never a better time to tell someone the truth. The time for truth is always now.