29 Sept 2022

Column: Having so much information makes it hard to differentiate fact from fiction

It is important to question videos or images that come into your WhatsApp groups or those you might come across on any social media platform, writes Shannon Sweeney.

Column: Having so much information makes it hard to differentiate fact from fiction

Column: Having so much information makes it hard to differentiate fact from fiction

It has been a particularly dark few years for everyone, and it has made people angry.

Currently, trans people and other LGBTQ+ folks are the victims of that anger.

Before that, it was vaccines and medics; before that, refugees and even before that, again, anger and misinformation were levelled at gay people. Most of those “mature discussions” were shrouded in misinformation and disinformation, as are today’s.

Biology, medicine and other sciences are never basic, identity and mental illness are two completely separate things, and criticism of anti-science views is not an attack on freedom of speech. In fact, social media means freedom of speech is much easier to exercise than ever before; if only we knew what it means as a right and a responsibility.

We have more access to information than any other people in the history of the world. My generation is the most educated there has ever been, and the next will be even better. But with all of that comes the responsibility to do more than sound out the words.

We must dig a little deeper into what we are told, shown and even what we believe. We have to try harder to understand.

Okay, but what next?
That is, of course, easier said than done. Having so much information makes it hard to differentiate fact from fiction.
So, here are some tips I use to evaluate online content.

1. Any image you are looking at should be complete.
If something is blurred or cropped, you cannot say what is missing or distorted.

2. For information to be reliable, it must come from a legitimate source.
The person who shared the image or piece of information is not necessarily the creator.

3. Sources that use the terms “science says” or “research shows” should be questioned.
That research should be identified by its institution if a whole citation is not practical.

4. While you may recognise the place in a photo, question when the photo was taken; just because someone said it was taken at an event doesn’t mean it wasn’t taken a year prior.

5. Consider the context. If something is shared online to disparage or attack a group, it is not being shared in good faith.

6. When making a decision, make it on a balance of evidence. There won’t always be a smoking gun.
But if there are inconsistencies and the context is one-sided, then chances are the content is suspect.

7. If you are unsure about something online, do not share it. Do not like or comment. And if you think it violates a platform’s guidelines, report it.

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