Stop contributing to the echo chamber of misinformation

March, 2024
Harry DweckTessa Silver

The current online world is plagued with an epidemic of lies. There is so much misinformation in our world that the Associated Press publishes a weekly edition of “Not Real News,” a feature of fake news stories that have been published recently. The content varies from President Biden’s supposed plans to give all illegal immigrants $5,000 Visa gift cards to FDA efforts to start a “plandemic” with harmful medications disguised as decongestants.

Misinformation is by no means a new concept, but the degree to which it pervades society today incredibly alarming. Despite the fact that the internet (and particularly social media) is overrun with conspiracy theories, embellished content, and dangerous misinterpretations, it has become the dominant source of information for Americans, especially for younger generations.

Pew Research found that in 2022, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter were the primary news source for 66 percent of young people. At the same time, according to Gallop, a record 78 percent of Gen Z trust what they read online, compared to just 60 percent who trust reputable national organizations.

In theory, social media can be used as a tool for exercising freedom of speech, avoiding the restriction of the distribution of information to a few powerful institutions. In practice, however, misinformation makes productive online discussions nearly impossible. In 2018, MIT researchers found that posts containing falsehoods reach 1,500 people on Twitter six times faster than truthful posts. This phenomenon, initially observed and coined in the political scene, is dubbed as “post-truth,” and was named the 2016 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionary. The most prominent example of the damage misinformation has caused is our own democracy. For example, CNN found that 38 percent of adults in the United States did not believe in the results of the 2020 election, and USA Today polls show that over half of Trump supporters have already decided that the 2024 election will be rigged. This January, the World Economic Forum ranked misinformation as the greatest global risk, citing its potential to “further widen societal and political divides … undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments [and] infiltrate public discourse.”

Improving how we process information online may not be as difficult as it seems. According to Matt Groh, a researcher at MIT’s Media Lab, when we simply pay attention to the quality of a source, we’re much better at detecting misinformation. If the legitimacy is not clear even after some research, it’s often useful to find the original evidence the author cited and come to a conclusion without the influence of a secondary source. In general, when we process information, it’s also important to apply the same levels of skepticism and thinking to all content, regardless of whether it aligns with our values or commonly accepted opinion. Without active awareness of our biases, we’re much more likely to believe falsehoods if they align with our own narrative.

In an age where the internet and social media are everywhere in our life, it’s our responsibility to combat misinformation and to think and advocate for truth, no matter how tedious it may seem. Next time you see something shocking, remember that meaningful information and ideas usually can’t be expressed in a single tweet or Instagram post.