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5 Ways Seniors Can Help Protect Themselves From Fake Messages Online: NPR

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Fake news is widespread and seniors are particularly at risk. Jan Hakan Dahlstrom / Getty Images Hide caption

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Jan Hakan Dahlstrom / Getty Images

Fake news is widespread and seniors are particularly at risk.

Jan Hakan Dahlstrom / Getty Images

Online misinformation is a serious threat, from counterfeit cures for COVID-19 to incorrect information about eligibility to vote.

Seniors are particularly at risk. According to a study by researchers at Princeton and New York University, people over 65 were more likely to share false or misleading content on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign. Older adults were also more exposed to misinformation on Twitter during this election.

Graphic Novel: Fake news can be deadly.  This is how you recognize it

Seniors should learn to avoid misinformation – to protect themselves and because they are civic active. More than half of poll workers in the 2018 U.S. general election were 61 years of age or older, according to the Pew Research Center. And older voters in the US are also consistently more likely to vote than younger groups.

A scientific study published in Nature magazine in March 2021 found that many people shared misinformation on social media because they didn’t pay close attention to the content. They were less likely to leak misinformation after being asked to judge the accuracy of the headlines. Simply spending more time evaluating sources can go a long way.

Here are more tips to help defuse misinformation and disinformation:

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Check the source and context

Are websites reliable or trustworthy sources? This is a key message during live online classes with Senior Planet, part of AARP’s Older Adults Technology Services (OATS).

“Misinformation can come from several places – it is not enough to avoid where you suspect it. It’s best to have a filter that all information passes through, ”said Breana Clark, associate director of program operations at OATS.

For example, check website suffixes to see if they end in .gov or .edu, which means they are official government websites or educational institutions. Senior Planet also makes a point of understanding context, such as spotting satire. It’s easy to mistake a funny picture or article for real.

Be careful with pictures too

Look for incoherent angles and / or unusual lighting to see if the images have been distorted. Again, note the source and context.

In an online class hosted by Senior Planet, John Silva, an education director for the nonprofit News Literacy Project, discussed a photo of a snake with a rifle-shaped bulge in its body. When asked participants for their opinion on the picture, one participant asked why a snake would want to eat a gun.

The fake snake turned out to be a work of art. But taken out of context, you’d think it swallowed a gun.

PEN America’s leaflet for discussing misinformation with friends and family is in English and Spanish.

Opinions versus facts

Understand the difference between opinion and fact, especially since anyone can post content online.

“Lateral reading” – or checking other reliable sources to verify information as it is being read is a term first used by the Stanford History Education Group. Important questions to ask yourself: “Who is behind the information? What is the evidence? What are other sources saying?” The News Literacy Project also recommends fact checking websites such as Snopes.com, Factcheck.org, and Politifact.com.

Libraries can also provide helpful resources, according to Nicole Cooke, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Information Science. (Cooke helped develop a series of online media literacy videos for the American Library Association.)

Libraries could hold events to learn about media literacy – and librarians are trained to “analyze information and all the noise every day,” Cooke said.

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Pause before sharing or reacting online

“Pause, think and have more click restraint,” advises Jean Setzfand, Senior Vice President of AARP Programs. (AARP is running a free webinar on misinformation.) Likes or comments to get someone to dig into clickbait content can be a revenue stream for websites, says Setzfand.

If friends or family share misinformation online, provide fact-checking resources.

Beware of bots and trolls

Bots are fake automated accounts. Identify them by spotting new accounts with few followers, no photo, strange usernames with lots of numbers, and nonsensical or inflammatory comments. Bots and trolls are often online troublemakers.

Bots or not, think twice about interacting online with someone you don’t know. Is this necessary or constructive?

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. For more Life Kit subscribe to our newsletter.

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