Before the pandemic, the group would present a few examples of misinformation every few days. Now each student is reporting multiple examples a day. “With the pandemic, people are increasingly online doomscrolling and looking for information,” Byron said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find it and feel confident you’re consuming facts.”
How do we adapt to avoid being manipulated and spreading false information to the people we care about? Past methods of spotting untruthful news, like checking articles for typos and phony web addresses that resemble those of trusted publications, are now less relevant. We have to employ more sophisticated methods of consuming information, like doing our own fact-checking and choosing reliable news sources. Here’s what we can do. Be a Fact Checker. While reading an article, Step 1 is to open a browser tab. Step 2 is to ask yourself these questions: Who is behind the information? What is the evidence? What do other sources say? From there, with that new browser tab open, you could start answering those questions. You could do a web search on the author of the content when possible. You could do another search to see what other publications are saying about the same topic. If the claim isn’t being repeated elsewhere, it may be false. You could also open another browser tab to look at the evidence. With a meme, for example, you could do a reverse image search on the photo that was used in the meme. On Google.com, click Images and upload the photo or paste the web address of the photo into the search bar. That will show where else the image has shown up on the web to verify whether the one you have seen has been manipulated.
With videos, it’s trickier. A browser plug-in called InVID can be installed on Firefox and Chrome. When watching a video, you can click on the tool, click on the Keyframes button and paste in a video link (a YouTube clip, for example) and click Submit. From there, the tool will pull up important frames of the video, and you can reverse image search on those frames to see if they are legitimate or fake.
But most important is the broader lesson: Take a moment to think. “The No. 1 rule is to slow down, pause and ask yourself, ‘Am I sure enough about this that I should share it?’” said Peter Adams, a senior vice president of the News Literacy Project, a media education non-profit. “If everybody did that, we’d see a dramatic reduction of misinformation online.”
While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter help us stay connected with the people we care about, there’s a downside: Even the people we trust may be unknowingly spreading false information, so we can be caught off guard. And with everything mashed together into a single social media feed, it gets tougher to distinguish good information from bad information, and fact from opinion.
What we can do is another exercise in mindfulness: Be deliberate about where you get your information, Adams said. Instead of relying solely on the information showing up in your social media feeds, choose a set of publications that you trust, like a newspaper, a magazine or a broadcast news program, and turn to those regularly.
Brian X Chen is the lead consumer technology writer for NYT©2020
The New York Times