Misinformation – A Reality Check

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Washington, DC – The COVID -19 pandemic in reality has brought on a deluge of misinformation or outright lies in its wake as people are working from home, students are having online classes, and in general the Internet is more of a hangout place than it was earlier.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said false claims “are spreading faster than the virus” and has already termed it an “infodemic of planetary proportions”.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have come across unverified stories shared on social media about “research,” or “miracle cures” and other aspects about the pandemic. Social media platforms have made it easy to spread fake stories or news that has been manipulated, and some of these posts go viral and the infodemic spreads at a lightning pace.

According to a study conducted by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, nearly 60 percent of links shared on social media have never been clicked.

When you see a social media post with a news story, don’t share it without reading it. That’s the point when a pause and deep breath will help stop the spread of misinformation. What looks exciting, newsy, and worth sharing immediately with family and friends, might be just a figment of the imagination or just a vicious attempt to mislead people into believing something that is just not true.

There are a number of terrifying real-world impacts taking place – especially in an environment where racial and social divisions have become more pronounced – when the sharings are not based on facts.

We can all take steps against falling for misinformation or damaging posts, by following a few basic guidelines.

First and foremost, acknowledge the fact that the social media platforms do not constantly monitor posts nor do they have an obligatory financial model to tell the truth. User engagement is what keeps them in business.

A healthy dose of skepticism is a sure way to save yourself all the trouble of sharing a damaging or divisive post that might look so good.

Many social media posts use emotions to attract views and generate shares. If you feel emotional about a post, or have an urgent urge to share immediately, that’s a warning sign that the post has been designed to trigger such emotions. Just let it go and read more on the subject from reliable sources or wait for a day or two to see how it pans out. Most of the time, it will show its true colors although people with vested interests will continue to push it out.

Remember that propagation of disinformation solely depends on people believing it and sharing it further instead of putting a stop to it. Usually we get duped when the post elicits a strong reaction. Make it a point to search the Internet to see if more than one reliable source is reporting about the same thing. This also takes care of old wine in new bottles as old authentic videos from one part of the world are shared as something that is happening now.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that the information we share is accurate. Let’s do our part so that awareness outpaces misinformation one click at a time.

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Poonam Sharma, Managing Editor, India America Today

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