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How To Know What’s Fake News: Journalism, Misinformation and You

Megan Hayes | News Editor

We all know that the internet is a breeding ground for misinformation. Anyone who has access to technology can have a say in what we consume, believe, and fear – which is part of the beauty of the internet. Everyone can have a platform to share, but sometimes information is shared without good intent—which can be categorized as misinformation. Misinformation, defined by the Oxford Dictionary means “false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.” Taking this into consideration, think about all the vast amount of information we consume daily... some sources are not reliable, and sometimes we really must look deeply and do our research before believing something is true. When there is so much information out there in the world that can so easily be misinterpreted and spread, there is a very high chance of not getting correct information. Whether it is because the information was passed through many sources (comparable to a bad game of telephone), the origin source was fraudulent, or the content was just made to gather attention to make money, we as consumers must be very cautious today in this digital world, and choose what we believe, not from our own opinion, but from the quality of the source. As a college community, we must be mindful of what we believe. Here are some ways you may not have known to spot misinformation.

Examining The Origin

Did your information come from a twitter post? A scientific journal? A sticky note someone left on a desk? Maybe something your parents told you about in passing? The source and origin of where your information came from is the most crucial part that needs to be examined before using information. Simply examining where the information came from can help to weed out fabricated and untrustworthy details. Just like you wouldn’t let someone with no medical experience try to diagnose you, you probably shouldn’t let someone who has not yet finished middle school make you believe the world is ending. If a scientist with an extensive background and a doctorate tells you the world is ending, then it is time to worry. Until then, save yourself trouble and don’t fret unless there is a proven reason to.

Emotion and Divisive Topics

Reputable sources come from research and sound reasoning, and often are most reliable if they are not trying to convince you to feel a certain way. An unbiased source often tells you information without any emotion behind it. Beware of “Here Is Why You Should...” and instead look for “Here Is What This Means...”, as someone trying to convince you to think a certain way may fail to include some facts or points of view from the opposing side. Neutrality and reasoning will be the main road signs guiding you on what to believe. Divisive topics can tend to get emotional, so it is especially important to tread carefully when trying to gain insight on both sides of an issue. As always, organizations as well as education sites will fare better when learning about a divisive issue, in lieu of a blog post filled with passion.

Diction: Overly Complicated or Necessary?

There is a difference between the use of large, confusing language for doctors to describe to other doctors what is going on with a patient, and a salesman using large confusing language to a customer. Understanding what extravagant words mean is important for knowing what is going on, and sometimes in non-reputable sources, this type of language is used to distract from reasoning. If you read an article in the news trying to convince you to buy a new pan because your other ones will poison you and the molecular composition is much better than any other competitor, maybe look into what exactly is so important about the molecular composition of pots and pans. If you read an article on cancer research and molecular information of cells, that is a time where extravagant language makes sense. Understanding why language is being used and the deeper meaning is significant. Will it help you understand the gritty details better or is it trying to confuse you into thinking a certain way?

Conclusion: Skepticism Can Be Beneficial!

The internet is a vast and amazing place. Consumers have all the information they could ever want at their fingertips—but choosing what to click may make navigating this digital era easier. Advocate for true information, use common sense and skills to decide what you will believe. The internet is an amazing place, but sometimes skepticism is necessary.


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