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Detecting misinformation on social media is becoming increasingly difficult

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Whether it’s the presidential election, climate change or Covid-19 vaccines and the delta … [+] Variant, misinformation continues to spread via social media.

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Whether it’s about the presidential election, climate change or Covid-19 vaccines and the Delta variant, misinformation continues to spread rampantly on social media. According to a January study by the Pew Research Service, more than eight in ten US adults (86 percent) said they got their messages on a smartphone. It’s easy to see why misinformation continues to spread.

While we can expect and even demand that social platforms address misinformation, it is unlikely that Facebook, Twitter or YouTube will ever eradicate it. One reason for this is that practically all content would have to be monitored full-time, but also the fact that these platforms depend on continuous use.

Put simply, misinformation gets clicks.

We see so much misinformation because the platforms have no real interest in deterring them, “said technology and telecommunications analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics.

“It’s really easy and free to join the platform, there is no profit in clearing the misinformation and preventing provocateurs from posting it,” warned Entner.

“Actually, the platforms benefit from it because the more outrageous the content, the more people interact with it – that kind of ‘engagement’ is what the platforms are looking for, people who respond to things. It doesn’t matter if it is true or false, “as long as they get involved,” added Entner. “There are no downsides in the anonymous multimedia world, but even when high-profile people spread lies there is no impact. Everything is sacrificed on the altar of monetization through engagement. “

Don’t stop realizing the misinformation

Since it cannot – and probably cannot – be stopped, it is best to discover it. This may not be as easy as it sounds as misinformation is often presented as news and / or fact. In some cases it may be wrong due to misunderstanding, while in other cases it is design misleading

“Bad information comes in two flavors, unintentional and deliberate. The latter, deliberate disinformation, is far more dangerous, ”said William V. Pelfrey, Jr., Ph.D., professor at the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“There are many people who purposely give inaccurate information in order to influence the outcome, such as an election,” said Pelfrey. “The undermining of social trust in times of Covid can disrupt the economy, affect employment and have a negative impact on public health. Some countries, including Russia and China, have elaborate disinformation organizations that are working hard to undermine the United States and thereby enhance other countries. “

Faith also becomes a problem when contradicting information is rampant. This has been made worse because the nation is so deeply divided and “other side” confidence is at an all-time low.

“Human nature is to simply turn away when things get messy,” added Pelfrey.

When the government is telling you to get vaccinated and social media is telling you vaccines and Covid are a joke, the easiest thing to do is to ignore it all. This creates an enormous public health risk, ”he warned. “The smart thing is to find the source. What data supports the claim? Is that fact – based on published, peer-reviewed research – or opinion? Opinions are often difficult to distinguish from facts because many represent opinions as facts; especially those who solicit attention, votes, or your money. “

Tips for spotting disinformation

There are now ways to quickly spot disinformation, including source credibility – not just on the subject, but on past events and stories as well. In other words, if the source on social media has been wrong in the past, that doesn’t make them an expert this time around.

“There are three things I rely on as quick checks for patients,” said Dr. Donna Gregory, Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing at Regis College. “Who publishes it? What information do they share? What is your intention? With respect to the person posting them, you want to test their qualifications and potential for bias. This applies to both individuals and organizations, should the person or organization have references pertaining to the field. For example, an infectious disease provider or a health organization that specializes in infectious diseases would be credible sources. “

The second is what information they share, added Gregory.

Is the information data based on recent studies or information from science? Or is it a post about a particular case or anecdotal story, ”she mused. “After all, what is the intent of the person or group posting it? Do you intend to share information based on current research and science? Do they want to sell you something? Does the contribution create fear or distrust? Disinformation wants to push you one way or the other rather than just sharing information. While it’s not foolproof, if you look at these questions together, you can determine if the information is intended to spread disinformation. “

Fact verification

A common misconception today is that fact-checking is often opinion-based, but as the term suggests, it’s about fact-checking. However, fact-checking does not mean contradicting any data that contradicts your argument and only endorsing those who agree.

It’s all too common on social media for someone to use a single source to make or support an argument while disregarding all other facts. This in turn leads to such a spread of misinformation.

If the information comes from a single person, it’s opinions – not facts, ”Pelfrey said. Time pharmacy employee. Not a scientist. “

The problem is made worse as it is making the rounds on social media.

In John Hughes’ film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off there is the joke, “He’s sick. The friend of my best friend’s sister’s friend heard about this guy who knows this kid who’s with a girl who Ferris last night passed out at 31 flavors “. I think it’s pretty serious. “

That kind of “source” almost flies on social media!

Expert opinions are easy to fabricate – be skeptical when you read something and consider the author’s motivation, “added Pelfrey.” Does the author disseminate scholarly knowledge or try to push you into an ideological position? “

And as mentioned earlier, don’t trust any source, especially those that may seem controversial.

“The most important way to verify that it is correct is to check multiple sources for the same information,” said Gregory. “If you can find information about the Delta variant on a news site, can you find that information on the CDC website? What about other health organizations like the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease? If your friend shares information about the vaccines, can you find the same information on the FDA website or other organizations like the World Health Organization? If the information is consistent from multiple, credible sources, it is likely to be reliable information based on evidence. “

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