It can be difficult to tell the difference between credible news and misinformation — and in some ways, our brains are contributing to the problem. According to Nadia Brashier, a professor of psychology at Purdue University, when we hear information repeatedly, we’re more likely to believe it is true, even when it’s not.
As misinformation proliferates on all of our news feeds, it can be difficult to tell if what we’re reading is accurate. In this episode, Nicole Ellis spoke to Brashier and Jimmeka Anderson, founder of I Am Not the Media, to identify ways to spot misinformation and help prevent it from spreading.
Misinformation refers to content that’s false, but that wasn’t necessarily created with the intention of harming a group of people, according to Brashier. The difference between misinformation and disinformation is that disinformation is deliberately misleading, while many people share misinformation while believing that it’s true.
Part of why misinformation can spread so easily, Brashier said, is because people tend to believe information that is repeated. When fake news is shared repeatedly, it can seem true — even when it’s not.
It’s important to come to whatever you’re reading with this question in mind, said Anderson: “Is this information credible?” It’s important to remember, she said, that all media is created by an individual. In other words, that individual’s perspective and background and biases may have the ability to impact the messaging, content and imagery of what they’re presenting.
Asking yourself certain questions to check your own implicit biases is also crucial, according to Anderson.
Whenever you read something and react to it, you should interrogate your thinking, Anderson said. You can start with these questions: “Where did I get this concept or this belief system? Where did it come from? Is it something that I read? Was it something that was taught to me? Is it based off my religious beliefs?”
When you understand how your beliefs have framed the lens through which you see the world, Anderson said, “you will then understand how that lens can either be foggy or clear when you engage with media or news.”
Failing to be open-minded when coming to a piece of news may lead to shutting out an opportunity to find truth, Anderson said.
“Research has actually shown that individuals that engage in active, open-minded thinking — they are less likely to experience strong, polarized beliefs online when they are approached with misinformation,” she said.
It’s not productive to be skeptical to the point of not accepting even credible information, Brashier added.
There are different ways to figure out if a source is credible, including fact-checking. Anderson suggests trying lateral reading, in which you open different windows on your screen or phone and look at different sources on an issue side-by-side. Reading about the same topic from multiple viewpoints will help you find that “kernel of truth,” Anderson said.
According to Brashier, it also helps to go directly to sources to try to discern whether they’re credible. One study found that 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.
“Those are missed opportunities to notice that a website is really shoddy and shady-looking,” Brashier said. “Often with these fake news sites, if you actually went to the site, it would be really obvious that this is not a credible news source.”
If you notice someone in your network posting misinformation online, Anderson suggests sending them a direct message to let them know that the piece of information is actually inaccurate and providing a credible link.
But “do not blast anyone online in front of people,” Anderson cautioned. “Educate others.”