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Friday, May 24
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: How to stay informed in the age of misinformation

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I’ve encountered a dilemma. I’ve found myself scrolling endlessly on social media, looking at all types of content, ranging from memes to selfies to news articles. Most of these posts I see contain tidbits of information, whether about world news or small events. Within these posts, people can say whatever they want, and some social media users will take it as being fact.  

The main concern is that people browse the Internet and get their information, but don’t always double-check its validity. As of 2022, more than half of social media users who share news posts do so without fact-checking. Misinformation is the term used when people spread false information they believe to be true. There needs to be a clear distinction between this and “disinformation,” which is when people deliberately spread false information, resulting in devastating effects. 

Some sites have more fake news than others: Facebook has a shocking 42% of users who frequently come across information they assume to be false. With Facebook being the largest social media site and boasting a whopping 3 billion active users per month, this is a major issue. We know nearly half of the surveyed group comes across posts they consider misinformation, but what does this mean for the other half of the people surveyed, and for Facebook users as a whole? You can assume an alarming number of users see false information every time they open the app, whether they know it to be false or, scarily, not.  

So, what can be done to counter this plague of falsified information with some groups of people intentionally spreading misleading or outright false statements? The most important and easiest thing to do is to cross-reference your sources. See something fishy on X? Look it up in your browser. If no other source appears to validate the information you saw, then it’s likely not true. If you don’t cross-reference, you too could be reposting or sharing the fake info in a panic, eventually spreading it to others unintentionally.  

Another step to take is to understand biases. We live in a world where political division is largely increased by social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. I’m sure we all have similar stories of older family members reposting the most politically polarizing and false information. This is because these services have algorithms that adapt to your interests and show you the posts that they know you’ll click on. This leads to further division, as someone extremely right-wing, for example, will see more frequent posts tearing down the left, and vice versa. Before immediately sharing a post that claims Biden is a sleeper agent or that your government is trying to kill you, double-check your sources and make sure it isn’t false or simply intentionally misleading. 

There are an estimated more than 5 billion social media users as of this year. That’s over half of the world's population. As more and more people are using different social media platforms, there are even more people at risk of seeing misinformation, and even spreading it. The next time you see something outlandish on social media, don’t immediately assume it's a fact. Consider the audience the post aims to reach and make sure to have more than one source. If we all start double-checking and reducing the spread of misinformation, a safer environment can be created for social media users of all kinds.  

 

Vincent Winkler (he/him) is a freshman studying sociology.  

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