Like a game of telephone, misinformation can be spread from person to person when people don’t analyze the information they’re being given.
As the 2020 election draws closer, more information-driven content will be available on both sides of the political aisle. It’s best to have a media literacy toolkit to help you know what is credible and what is not.
While not an actual box full of tools, Professor of Mass Communication Tara Cuslidge-Staiano and Radio-Television Professor Adriana Brogger said not vetting the content you see online can be dangerous because not only are consumers believing things that aren’t factual, but people can be hurt when others spread misinformation.
The Collegian presents some things to consider as Nov. 3 draws closer.
Considering the Source
Brogger and Cuslidge-Staiano said social media users create their own echo chambers when they filter out people who disagree with their own views.
Brogger said that because people on social media typically see what their circle posts and re-posts, they are exposed to similar values and like-minded ideas.
“They’re not exposing themselves to a variety of information. It’s just this very small sphere of folks who are having the same nonsense discussions and they are validating each other’s point of view because that’s the only thing they’re interacting with and I think that’s really dangerous,” said Brogger.
Cuslidge-Staiano added that getting information only from people who align with one’s values is a problem because then you’re not exposed to all ideas.
In addition, Cuslidge-Staiano said that the spread of misinformation is caused by the race to be the first person to break news.
“People post without vetting content simply because they want to be the person that you got the information from,” said Cuslidge-Staiano.
Brogger also believes that the accessibility of being able to put content on social media aids in the spread of misinformation.
“It’s just, ‘let me whip out my cell phone because I have it, I’m going to capture this’ and the people make what they want of that,” said Brogger.
Journalism in the Age of Social Media
Cuslidge-Staiano said that journalism is still relevant in a world where people turn to social media to get their news because journalists work to get people to look outside of their echo chambers.
“We’re still trying to be part of the broader conversation that people have shut themselves off to,” said Cuslidge-Staiano.
Brogger added there is a need for journalists and also for people with expertise in a subject because they can connect the dots between the information people are getting and what it means.
“What a journalist says is much more than to just tell you what’s going on in the moment, but [to] provide much needed information related to policy, to context, to where does this land in the scope of ‘why should we care about this,’” said Brogger.
Cuslidge-Staiano said that journalists have training in areas that people who spread misinformation do not.
“In media areas, we’re trained in ethics, we’re trained in giving both sides of the story, whereas your neighbor Sue down the street may not be,” said Cuslidge-Staiano.
Brogger also said journalists have a set of skills that allow them to weed through false information.
“A newsroom is tied to ‘how is this going to benefit the community’, public good, the code of ethics, about doing no harm, the code of ‘you don’t cover news just for the sake of covering news,’” said Brogger.
Dangers of Misinformation
A podcast by the American Psychological Association, covered some of the occurrences that have resulted from the spreading of misinformation.
As stated on the podcast, a Louisiana police officer saw a post on social media about how a congresswoman believed that our military was overpaid.
Assuming that information to be factual and feeling strongly against the congresswoman’s beliefs, the officer posted a comment that was interpreted as a death threat against her. Another Louisiana police officer then liked his comment and they were both fired.
Cuslidge-Staiano said that she thinks that one of the dangers of not fact checking is that people have been prompted to do things that are illegal or that harm other people when others don’t fact check.
“Rumors can fly and spread and that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous not only to the individual that the rumors are about, but it’s dangerous to others too because you react differently if you think somebody you know is hurt,” said Cuslidge-Staiano.
Brogger said another possible effect of not fact checking is that one can diminish their own integrity if people see them spreading information that is not factual.
“For individuals, as much as it is for an organization, it has to do with your reputation, your credibility, how people see you,” said Brogger.
Stopping the Spread of Misinformation
Both Cuslidge-Staiano and Brogger said media literacy is important.
“The reality of media literacy is it’s all of that [knowing how to read, write and convey your thoughts] plus that critical thinking aspect of it,” said Cuslidge-Staiano, adding that media literacy is impacted greatly when people don’t vet the content they see and share on social media.
“It’s not always great to get it first, you want to get it right,” she said.
Brogger said it’s important to think before you share.
“I would say it’s kind of an information minefield out there right now and the only way that we navigate through the minefield without getting blown up is by really being metered in our approach to information,” said Brogger.
Cuslidge-Staiano added that the suggestion to vet content isn’t just for young social media users.
“Universally, we have to do better at being media literate… We have to do better by what we share and we have to do better by the information that we put out,” said Cuslidge-Staiano.