A lost dog strays into a jungle. A lion sees this from a distance and says with caution, “This guy looks edible, never seen his kind before”.
So the lion starts rushing towards the dog with menace. The dog notices and starts to panic but as he’s about to run he sees some bones next to him and gets an idea and says loudly, “Mmm… that was some good lion meat!”.
The lion abruptly stops and says, “Woah! This guy seems tougher then he looks, I better leave while I can.” Over by the tree top, a monkey witnessed everything. Evidently, the monkey realizes the he can benefit from this situation by telling the lion and getting something in return. So the monkey proceeds to tell the lion what really happened and the lion says angrily, “get on my back, we’ll get him together.”
So they start rushing back to the dog. The dog sees them and realized what happened and starts to panic even more. He then gets another idea and shouts, “Where the hell is that monkey! I told him to bring me another lion an hour ago…”
I love this story. It’s funny and makes a very relevant point in how we engage with information today. More often that not, when people hear something they take it for fact, without questioning it’s credibility or source. Such blind faith can only lead to misinformation and misunderstanding.
The horrendous events of this past week is what brought my mind back to this story and idea. From the Paris attacks to the bombings in Beirut, it has been a difficult time. Naturally it has led to a ton of media coverage and content about everything related to these tragedies: what happened, what it means, what’s next, and so on.
A word of caution during these trying times: be inquisitive of the source and credibility of the information that we are consuming. Emotions are high and people can say anything they want online. The fact is, there is no internet police out there ensuring that people can’t just make up ideas and events to fit a certain narrative. No one is fact checking and citing what they say. There are no sources or research in most articles we read. The truth is, ensuring what you read is credible, is almost impossible.
And it’s not just a concern for these recent events. Everything from food to politics to stocks and so on, is a possible source of misinformation. So we have to be careful in how we navigate and engage with this new media landscape. We need to question, research, and explore these ideas ourselves, not just take the medias word for fact. We need to protect ourselves from misinformation. Here’s how we can do just that.
1. Don’t Just Read The Headline
Things are moving a mile a minute. Information is flowing faster than ever and all we can do to keep up is skim. What harm can there be in reading just a headline? More than you’d think! There is a certain art in writing headlines with the purpose of getting more engagement. Nothing else really matters and often the actual content is completely different or just absolute bullshit.
Sites like The Onion, a parody news site, while hilarious, only make things more confusing. I’ve seen several people share an Onion article under the assumption that it was a real news story. So don’t just read the headline. Go to the actual site, read the story, look at the source, and then decide if you want to share it or not.
2. Do More Research
As we can see above, headlines are often striving for clicks, not providing actual information. Articles are trying to provoke a reaction or propel a narrative. You can’t just believe what you read. What you can do though, is more research. If you find an article that claims something, do a quick Google search to see if it checks out. The best way to avoid misinformation is to do more research! It becomes apparent pretty quickly what is truthful and what is a flat out lie.
Earlier this year I came across this article that said: 75,000 Dietitians Now Recommend Kids Eat America Cheese
As in Kraft Singles. I hope everyone’s B.S. detector is going off right now. That simply can’t be true and it’s not. If you actually dig into it, what actually happened is Kraft paid a lot of money to show support for the Kids Eat Right initiative and somehow turned that into a seal of approval for their products. Pretty sketchy, right?
3. Don’t Share Just to Share
Social media has changed the game when it comes to spreading information. Part of this is how some pieces of content go viral to the point where people don’t even know what they’re sharing anymore. They just see that others are doing it and they follow suit.
Anyone remember KONY from a couple years ago? I’d wager that most people shared that video just because it was the cool thing to do at that point. That’s not a good reason to share information. And even that campaign, which was for a good cause, came under fire for it’s misrepresentation of several facts.
4. Do Add Context
Sharing something outright leaves a lot to interpretation. Add a comment or opinion on the things you share to avoid such situations. Do you see a hole in the reasoning of the author or a particular point you don’t agree with? Share that as well because it adds context to how you interpret it, which can make all the difference. Nothings perfect, but this sort of constructive commentary can add a lot of value and spark more meaningful conversations.
5. Don’t Be Lazy
The simple truth is fact checking all of this information takes time and work that we don’t wish to put in. A recent study made a similar finding on the matter:
“So, what happens within our minds and emotions that make us receptive to lies, and then resistant to information that exposes the truth? A study led by Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia explains part of what may happen. The researchers found that “Weighing the plausibility and the source of a message is cognitively more difficult than simply accepting that the message is true — it requires additional motivational and cognitive resources.”
It’s important to make the effort to explore what we’re reading or seeing on TV is actually true, especially if we’re going to use that information in our lives. Don’t be lazy.
6. Do Beware of Confirmation Bias
We all have a set of beliefs or assumptions that we operate under and that has an impact on how we see the rest of the world. This is called confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.
This is why we believe Fox News is conservative or how CNN is liberal. We have these beliefs and everything is interpreted by them, but we need to be aware of these beliefs and open to changing them. If we’re not, then all the information in the world isn’t going to help us.
Information is everywhere today and trying to make sure it’s the right information is a challenging endeavor. If we can do a better job of fighting off misinformation though, we will be able to hold the media accountable and raise our own awareness on just about everything.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to to accept what is true.
Image via flickr.
Originally published at alyjuma.com on November 20, 2015.