Everyone has come across a Facebook post or Twitter thread which seems so outlandish that no one in the world could possibly believe it. Despite this, someone on the worldwide web believed the article, shared it, and fell into the trap of misinformation.
According to The Washington Post, this cycle of misinformation has become so prominent that Dictionary.com listed it as their 2018 Word of the Year. Dictionary.com was also careful to clarify the difference between misinformation and disinformation as the two words are often mistakenly used as synonyms.
Dictionary.com defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead” and disinformation as “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”
As an everyday scroller or just a bored college-student, it is likely that we have seen examples of this misinformation. Maybe you’ve seen those thousands of articles about how some celebrity has died or maybe you’ve seen articles about a new species being discovered; then, you realize you just saw that celebrity tweet 30 seconds ago and that the new species is clearly a photoshopped picture. These are just a few examples of misinformation that we are likely to encounter.
While laws and regulations may play a key role in ending misinformation everyday users should also be aware of the large role that they play in stopping its cycle. This means that you, as a college student, could make a huge different just by studying up on different ways to spot these articles.
If the headline is in all caps or uses intensive punctuation, then it is likely misinformation. Another good tip is to follow the old saying “if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.”
Does the article list an author or does it simply credit “staff” or “admin”? If no actual name is listed, this sometimes means the information within the article is something no one is proud enough to take credit for and that most likely means it’s false. If an author is listed, look for their credentials to see how credible they are.
You can also look at the URL. Many sites known for misinformation will just make small changes to trustworthy URLs, such as NBCnews.com.co instead of NBCnews.com. CBS News provides examples of fake news websites here.
Look at the images in the article. If they seem extreme or possibly photoshopped, then it may be smart to do a reverse image search on the pictures. Images that appears in other articles which aren’t related to the topic is a sure sign of misinformation.
Check the sources that the author gives, if any. Many misinformation articles will reference reputable news sources even if the content has nothing to do with their article, just to build credibility.
It is through these simple steps that you can help stop the cycle of misinformation and make social media a more honest place.