Here’s something I’ve been worrying about for a long time, and even more so in recent months.
Much as we’d all like to believe otherwise, more and more people are becoming frozen by fear–fear of conspiracy, fear of “fake news,” fear that we’re helpless against mysterious forces we have no control over.
And in a spiritual sense, that’s a proper fear. We do indeed have an adversary, the devil, and he does indeed go about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour. But notice something very important. First Peter 5:8 (the verse I just alluded to) does NOT say to be afraid. Instead it says, “Be sober, be vigilant.”
In other words, there’s something we can do about the fears we have. We should be sober, and we should be vigilant. But we need not feel helpless.
The other day I came across a helpful article online which–if we follow its advice–can cut ‘way down on the paranoia. Nothing in that article is new. It’s information which careful thinkers and scholars are taught as basic skills for what they do. It’s what I was taught in college, especially when I took a required debate class.
Take a look at it. I believe that anyone who carefully follows the suggestions below can take a deep breath and realize that we actually do have more control than we think we do when it comes to checking out what’s true and what isn’t. Here’s the article, and I’ve included its online link below:
How To Spot Misinformation
(From NPR’s LifeKit series—link at the end of this article)
Fake news has consequences.
Back in 2016, before the term was even part of our national vocabulary, it threw the government of Twin Falls, Idaho, into chaos.
Rumors of a government cover-up involving child molestation and Syrian refugees swirled. They soon leaped from the fringes of the Internet to kitchen tables and the mainstream media.
“Members of the local government, the mayor, the city council members, local judges, the county prosecutor, they were basically inundated for months on end with threats,” says Caitlin Dickerson, who covered the story for The New York Times. “Violent threats. Very visceral and descriptive threats from all over the world.”
But the outrage was not based on facts. The details were blurred in some cases, completely fabricated in others, depending on the storyteller and their agenda.
It was a grave example of how misinformation can have a terrifying real-world impact. But falsehoods aren’t hard to come by in today’s information landscape.
Here are five tips to help you spot misinformation:
1) Exercise skepticism. Take in any new information, whether it’s the news or on social media or from a buddy at happy hour, with a bit of doubt. Expect the source to prove their work and show how they came to their conclusion. And try to compare information from a number of different outlets, even if you have a favorite.
2) Understand the misinformation landscape — Misinformation, as a concept, isn’t new. But the social media platforms for engaging with it are constantly changing and increasing their influence in the media world. Those platforms have no financial obligation to tell the truth — their business models depend on user engagement. Reducing your dependence on social media will be good for your news judgment (and your sleep).
3) Pay extra attention when reading about emotionally-charged and divisive topics. —
Misinformation is most effective on hot-button issues and immediate news. Ask yourself: Is this a complicated subject, something that’s hitting an emotional trigger? Or is it a breaking news story where the facts aren’t yet able to be assembled? If the answer is yes, then you need to be ultra-skeptical.
4) Investigate what you’re reading or seeing — What does that skepticism look like in practice? It means asking some questions of what you’re reading or seeing: Is the content paid for by a company or politician or other potentially biased source? Is there good evidence? And are the numbers presented in context?
5) Yelling probably won’t solve misinformation. — It’s important to value the truth, but correcting people is always delicate. If someone in your life is spreading objective falsehoods and you want to help, be humble. Don’t assume bad intentions or stupidity, just meet the other person where they are and be curious — think about opening with common ground and a question. Try to have the conversation in person or at least in a private online setting, like an email.