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The Truth is Out There

Posted by Kim on October 7, 2020, 9:00am

This is the first in a series of three articles on media literacy and healthy social media habits.

Tall tales and urban myths have always had a hold on our imagination, and some have been remarkably enduring through simple word of mouth. But the rise of social media has allowed a form of even taller tale to spread faster, with more intensity, leading to even more real world consequences.

Spreading false information can be outright dangerous - as in the case of myths about health or fake "cures" for diseases that someone just desperate enough might try.

It can have an effect on individual mental health, by making the world feel like a less safe place - as in the case of fake news stories about explosions, attacks, laws that don't exist, etc.

It can even have large-scale population effects, like decreasing voter turnout or causing people not to follow basic health and safety advice.

But the truth IS out there, and it is possible to find and share it! It's going to take all of us to create a healthier, more truthful environment online.

For the next month - as the world gets ever more crazed - join me in pledging not to share any news story or informational meme until you've double checked it!


Hopefully, this will become a life-long habit. :)

Here are some ways to double check information before sharing it:

Check the source! Make sure that the story is written by a source you trust, with a reputation for accuracy and an editorial process that includes careful fact checking. If you don't know the organization, check the website's "about" section to learn more. Real journalistic outfits publish a healthy number of corrections and retractions -- if a source claims to have never been wrong, or never apologizes if it's later discovered that new facts disprove old assumptions, you need to be very suspicious of them.

Always read beyond the headline. Often, headlines are designed to sound as sensational as possible, stretching and even contradicting the facts of the actual story. Make sure that before you share an article, you have read the entire thing. Even reputable journalists can have their well-crafted article mis-titled by an editor just out to get their publication more clicks. If you find a great article, but the title is very misleading, be sure to mention that in your post.

Look for errors. Many false news stories have phony or look-alike URLs, or contain misspellings, bad grammar or awkward layouts.

Double check the facts. Type a key line of the story or meme into snopes.com, factcheck.com, or do an independent Google search to see if you can find out whether the information is true, sort of true but taken wildly out of context, or just completely made up. If it's not completely true, don't share it! If it's partly true, still don't share it - say something in your own words that encapsulates the part you agree with and know to be true, but leave out the misleading portions.

Be willing to take down something you have posted. We ALL make mistakes. I have been caught up in the excitement of how a meme made me feel and shared it, only to discover what had felt so right to me was patently false. It happens! But if it's pointed out to you that you shared something that might be erroneous, be willing to remove it from your social feed entirely rather than posting a correction in the comments. Many more people will see the original misinformation as they scroll their feed, than will see the comment underneath it debunking it, and they too might share it without realizing!

It doesn't take very long to do a Google search before sharing something on social media, but doing so can have a bigger positive impact than we realize. Step one to finding common ground is finding a set of facts that we can agree on. We can all do our part to create more unity in the world, to create potential for more solutions being found and acted on, by being careful to use our social media to spread more facts and less fake news.


Some more useful resources:

Remember, if you're wanting to discuss politics, we have a US politics group. Please keep political discussions off the public forums so that folks who are looking for escapism on the RPR can get it.

Comments

ILoveAlexTurner

October 7, 2020
7:44pm

Oh I love this! It’s time to end these horrible scams that take people from a vulnerable state and use them. Glad to see some awareness of this issue, since it’s one not a lot of people tend to point out or shine the light on.

JayBird

October 7, 2020
1:13pm

I'd also like to point out that media bias is a definite thing. Even a trusted news source, e.g. CNN, can have an agenda or lean one way or another. The Associated Press, BBC, Reuters, and a few others are the most neutral and fact based, but almost everyone falls to one side or the other. There are media bias charts readily available, but it's important to question the bias of the bias, as it were.

A well placed word can make a world of difference. For example.

Read a lot. Think even more. And write slowly.

Kim

October 7, 2020
9:31am

@Avitrathephoenix I'm so glad you think so!

@Zelphyr That is an EXCELLENT point! Fake "cures" don't just offer false hope, they can cost people valuable time when real treatments might still be effective.

Zelphyr

October 7, 2020
9:24am

A step further on the "can be dangerous" and "health myths" bit: besides encouraging people to try dangerous things, it can also discourage them from necessary/very important things. For example, convincing people that vaccinations are inherently a greater risk than anything they protect against, or that a standard treatment for something is some evil scheme for... reasons?

And in extention, some folks push back so aggressively that they ignore real risks: like that some people are legitimately allergic to some vaccines and need to balance that.

(Apologies if this is too much to be saying outside of that group. Only meant to add to statements in the announcement.)

Avitrathephoenix

October 7, 2020
9:21am

This is an awesome initiative. Making sure that we're taking care of ourselves and each other by speaking truthfully, making ourselves wiser and more knowledgeable by making sure we know what we're talking about, and making sure that, when it does come to discussion and debate of complex topics (be they sociopolitical or other more general subjects), our points don't fall apart as soon as we express them, this habit of fact checking is incredibly important and I'm glad you're encouraging it!

I'm definitely with you! ^v^