The misinformation crisis
By ALEX CASTRO
The internet can be a useful source of facts and information, but what happens when these facts become fictitious?
Many people rely on the internet for trustworthy news and information. Yet due to sensationalist standards, and the desire to be correct, the pandemic that is misinformation is being spread both intentionally and unintentionally.
Moreover, the growing surge of misinformation on the internet, can be attributed to a few provocative or convincing statements which are rebranded as “new information.”
This corruption of informational sources on the internet represents the tendency of society to perpetuate confirmation bias, hindering individuals from forming their own opinions. People who are in the wrong will manipulate information in order to trick innocent viewers into falling in line with their agendas. The act of purposely spreading misinformation is an unjust practice which can have deadly consequences.
One of the main problems of false information is that it is hard to pinpoint the sources. Sources often get lost in the debates for correctness. Anonymous media distribution allows anyone to share falsified information without having to check the origins or merit of the post. One image or statement can be spread to countless number of people, without any clue of who first created it.
This growing trend of sensationalism entails featuring shocking or surprising stories to incite an emotional response in exchange for both accuracy and truth. This helps to spread misinformation as the eye-catching pieces gain lots of attention and fly mostly under the radar of fact checkers and consumers.
What’s more, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook incite the wild misinformation fire that rages across the internet. In essence, social media websites use a program called a learning algorithm which learns what users like and displays posts based on the user’s preference. Because “sensational” posts are more likely to catch the viewers eyes, messages are created to gain popularity rather than display factual information. This lessens the value of honorable journalism. Due to this system, it allows anyone to have their, regardless of whether the information comes from trustworthy or respectable sources.
With as many fact checkers and secondary sources there are in today’s highly aware society, sources that publish misinformation are regularly outed. However, this creates a hyper-active audience that is quick to isolate any incorrect fact they see. Companies and publishers can be called out for any errors, whether intentional or unintentional.
By creating such a hostile environment for mistakes, the public creates a very dangerous environment for new sources. Readers can no longer trust the information they had come to believe. Yet, this distrust extends into trustworthy sources as well: the lack of trust between outlets and the reader.
Take, for example, the anti-vaccination movement sweeping the nation as a result of this maelstrom of misinformation. The National Center for Disease Control states that the growing movement of individuals who fear vaccines are largely responsible for the return of the deadly measles. A public poll by the Royal Society for Public Health in May of 2018 found that 40% of more than 2,500 participants had recently seen an advertisement or post containing untruthful or purposely misleading statistics regarding vaccinations.
This group operates under the impression that they know more information than normal citizens that is “more trustworthy” proven sources. These skeptics tend to over-analyze arguments even when analyzing credible sources. In doing so, they create confirmation bias handpicking the information they choose to believe and viewing evidence for their pre-existing views. As Forbes Magazine stated, any given person is 84% more likely to believe information showed to you by someone you trust. By limiting the sources you receive information from, it increases the likelihood something will be incorrect.
While some of this circulating misinformation may have been made intentionally misleading, some are simply unknowingly spread by concerned viewers repeating blatantly fabricated information that was shared with them. Because of this, information is primarily circulated between similar-minded groups and people. This has an echo-chamber effect, which creates no space for competing opinions and blows problems out of proportions.
Over time, an advanced tool that began as an attempt to provide crucial knowledge to those in need of it became corrupted. People started posting misinformation and fake facts and began to disrupt the necessary bond between source and consumer.