Misinformation is a problem.
That is not up for debate. “Findings suggest that participants perceive misinformation as a problem if it has real or potential negative consequences.” It spreads like a virus and can be extremely harmful to all parts of society.
So, how do we fix this problem?
Well, “Research has coalesced around the idea that no single approach will work in all contexts, and effective strategies need to include media literacy, fact-checking, changes in how news is produced and circulated, government oversight, and regulations as well as responses that take local contexts into account.”
So, if we know we can’t fix this problem with one simple answer, how do we go about combating this important and multifaceted issue?
We must attack this problem from multiple different angles. Using a top-down, or bottom up method will not suffice, but an inside out approach instead.
What is an inside out approach?
An inside out approach starts within and slowly spreads through all the different facets of the problem until ultimately a new and better version is available.
To accomplish this difficult task we must first, educate our children. The kids of today will be the adults of tomorrow. Only educating our children is not the end all be all answer, however, it’s a good place to start. Illinois is making moves in this category by recently passing a bill that requires all students to learn about media literacy in their education. There is plenty of research that shows learning more about misinformation and media literacy in general allows people to understand and catch fake news at a higher percentage. A study suggests “we show how being misinformed is a function of a person’s ability and motivation to spot falsehoods, but also of other group-level and societal factors that increase the chances of citizens to be exposed to correct(ive) information.”
For example, I have been having conversations about our class findings and insights with my mom, because both she and I find the topics very fascinating. Just the other day, she sent me a link to an article with the text, “fake or real news?” After looking deeper, we agreed that the article was real. This interaction goes to show that when you educate someone about misinformation it makes a difference. She later told me that she has been more careful and cautious about what she has regarded as true online.
2. BE PROACTIVE
Second, social media companies and news companies need to be more proactive about flagging and deleting false information. We are very susceptible to believing misinformation even after that information is corrected, because “false beliefs can still persist.” Psychologists say that countering misinformation will ultimately require stronger partnerships with social media platforms. This is where the multiple facets of stopping misinformation play their part. It cannot be fixed by one person or one group. There will only be a difference if multiple different groups of people, along with the platforms and governments, participate in slowing the spread. “[Participants] express a sense of shared responsibility among individuals and institutions for stopping the spread of misinformation.”
In addition to sharing the responsibility, we can also be proactive in our own media use. We can create a more media literate society, by checking before we blindly post or share information and by being cautious of the sources we receive our information from.
3. CREATE AWARENESS
Third, in addition to social platforms, the government needs to work on creating more awareness throughout society about the effects, harms, and causes of misinformation. As we have learned, information spreads extremely fast. So why not use that to our advantage and spread awareness about the effects and harms misinformation can have on society. We need to create campaigns, post videos, share stories, and allow people to have the space to talk about this issue. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started working on a campaign involving misinformation with Covid-19 information. This is a great start to being more proactive in creating awareness.
Below is another example of how different organizations can help create awareness by circulating infographics on the topic.
Misinformation has been around for a long time. So, it is not just going to fix itself overnight. We, as a whole society, need to play an active part in stopping the spread of misinformation. We can start by educating our children and ourselves, by being proactive in our media use and posts, and by creating awareness and sharing credible sources on the topic of misinformation. Together, and only together, can we stop the spread of misinformation.