How to Identify False Information Online

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Generally, our thoughts, feelings, and actions are influenced heavily by the information we consume. This information can be discovered by us, it can be presented to us, or we can consume it passively. When was the last time that you didn’t weigh the pros and cons of a major decision, instead letting online information, perhaps of dubious quality or source, influence you?

It can be anything – if you’re ready to propose to your significant other; how you choose to bequeath your belongings to your next of kin; what socks to wear; whether you can make it through the intersection before the light turns red. All of those situations require information and analysis if you’re hoping to make the right decision. However, sometimes, there’s a lapse in your critical thinking – You might have been running late, so you didn’t verify your socks are matched. Or, perhaps you didn’t quite perfectly estimate how far the intersection was, or how fast you were going. Better luck next time!

The information we process influences our behavior during important events such as global pandemics or elections. With the world getting increasingly connected via the Internet, and as technological advancements make huge strides daily, information, both factual and false, spreads very, very fast. To make it worse, statistics show that lies spread faster compared to the truth. Why? Because fake information seems too perfect and sweet to resist compared to the reality that often sounds boring or messy.

Traditionally, our source of information was mainstream media. Now, more and more people are relying on social media networks as their source of information. As a result, social media has become a hotbed of fake information as people try to influence others by making outrageous posts for fun or with ulterior motives.

At the most basic level, the people spreading disinformation intend to elicit some form of reaction from readers. Therefore, if you suspect the content you are reading is falsified, pause, and think about its impact on your emotional state before sharing or retweeting it.

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So, how can you identify false information online?

Did a post cause intense feelings?
Basically, crafters of false information intentionally play on your emotions to cause outrage, fear, or disgust. They achieve this by crafting the content in such a way that it short-circuits your critical thinking process. So, whenever you come across information that causes intense feelings, there is a possibility that it is false.

Look out for the feel-good-catch
One of the tactics used by people spreading false information is creating and sharing content that makes people feel good. While some of those pieces may have some truth in them, chances are that they have a dark undercurrent.

An ideal ploy used by people to spread this type of misinformation is to play on your vanity or inflate your self-esteem by posts such as “Only 1 percent of people are brave enough to share this”. Of course, most people want to feel heroic and brave enough to share the information, even without verifying what it is all about.

Who is the source, anyway?
Before swallowing line, hook and sinker, check if the story or tweet is from a reliable media. Find out whether the source has a particular bias or if the person, while expressing their opinion presented facts slanted in favor of their views instead of presenting them in a balanced manner while presenting all the evidence for readers to draw their conclusion.

 

If the source quotes a person, check if the source quoted gave the exact statement. In addition, consider that the person may have issued the statement but it may not be factual. In some instances, if verifying sources is too much work, you might want to skip liking or sharing the content.

Though it is almost impossible to eliminate false information, using the tips outlined above will help you pick out the truth from the lies.

Will Young
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