“I feel like misinformation has been everywhere in the news lately. What exactly is misinformation and how can I avoid it?”
Let me start by thanking you for asking such an important — and, as you point out — timely question. While most of us had never heard of the term “misinformation” just a few years ago, since then, it’s increasingly become an important part of our digital vocabulary, a word that’s used to describe just how wacky our internet can be (something I make super clear in this week’s TikTok. And no, peanut butter cups do not lead directly to stomach cancer! #halloweenhater).
Misinformation refers to information — often shared online, and especially on social media — that is misleading, false or inaccurate. You may have also heard of misinformation’s “cousin,” disinformation. What’s the difference between the two? In short, disinformation is just a bit more nefarious: while both “misinformation” and “disinformation” refer to inaccurate information, disinformation refers specifically to inaccurate information that is intended to deceive. Disinformation can be anything from propaganda to fake articles. Unfortunately, all of us — including you and me — can easily fall prey to both mis and disinformation.
And that’s because there’s a TON of inaccurate information on the internet. (Thus the saying: “Never believe what you read online.”) So…how can you stay away from so-called “fake news”? Well, there’s no surefire way to be 100% #misinfofree, but there are definitely ways to detect and avoid inaccurate information when you see it. Tip #1: Check the source. Sorry to sound like your high school English teacher, but on this point, they’re right: if it’s not a credible source (e.g. your best friend’s blog), read warily and cautiously (your best friend may be great, but they also don’t have much of an incentive to provide you the most up-to-date, accurate information). On the other hand, if a source ends with .org or .gov, you’re much more likely to be reading content you can trust.
Tip #2: Check the date. When was this article published? June of 2007? Uh oh. Even if the author provided an incredibly accurate account of the most popular politicians that summer…that’s probably not the source to consult 14 years later. It sounds basic, but we’re all guilty of not asking: So, when was this actually written and published? Don’t let yourself be that person. Finally, tip #3: When in doubt, gut check. One of the examples in my TikTok video — that you can safely lose 15 pounds in 1 day — was actually once a very popular lie on the internet. But c’mon: how could the average person safely do that? Maybe in extreme cases, that’s possible, but a gut check should sound alarm bells: that just doesn’t seem right. Adopt that skeptical mindset as you read anything and everything on the internet, so you can pick up on and ignore #digitaljunk.
I hope these tips make navigating all of the information on the internet just a bit easier! It’s also possible that this post has actually led to new questions…in which case, great; bring it on! Go ahead and share your note, question, or thoughts here, and your topic might be the focus of an upcoming TikTok/blog post! Don’t forget: you’re almost definitely not the only person wondering about the issue, whatever it is, so ask away — nothing is off-limits. And when you see an Ask Trish video you like, share it! Together, we can spread a little #InternetPositivity, one person at a time. 💙
For more, please see ConnectSafely’s Parent & Educator Guide to Media Literacy and Fake News.
Thank you for tuning in again this week! Until next Tuesday,