COVID-19. It’s everywhere. It’s like you can’t escape it (quite literally, you can’t). I had my fair share of anxiety when all of this started. I just learned this week that I could no longer do my research in the lab and that I would have to work from home. I’m starting to feel MUCH better now, establishing the new “normal.” Who else has found their new normal?
This global pandemic has taught me a lot so far, but perhaps the thing that stands out to me the most is how quickly misinformation spreads. This pandemic has given me an even stronger determination to fight against misinformation!
Here’s some of the crazy information about the virus that I’ve heard. Mind you, it comes from people I trust… friends, family, and coworkers.
“It’s going to start a civil war. The military is going to be in the street, shooting at us.”
“It’s really just a something that the government started to distract us from the election.”
“It’s a mutant virus! That’s why they’re having such a hard time with it.”
“I know someone in the Pentagon who said that Trump is going to mandate a country-wide quarantine. Buy all of your groceries; stock up, NOW!”
Errhhmmmm, hold on… How can we assume that any of, or even part of, these statements are true?
While this post is not going to focus on misinformation specific to COVID-19, it will help you learn how to spot general misinformation and learn to avoid it!
Three ways to spot misinformation
(1) Someone is asking you to purchase their product or shop through their affiliate link.
As an “influencer,” I turned down so many companies that offered to sponsor me because their products were complete BS, meaning, they went against what I know to be true as a scientist.
Does that mean that you have to be a scientist to know if something is true or false? ABSOLUTELY NOT. We can all use a little bit of critical thinking here.
Just think about how often someone is trying to sell you something or get you to use their “code at checkout.” Just think about how many articles you come across with “the best” x or y solution for your problem!
These types of pages have links attached to them that lead to a product page, which ultimately ends up in you wasting your hard-earned cash on a product that doesn’t actually do what it claims to do.
Why? Because the claims were misleading… AKA misinformation.
(2) The source is using a hyperbole.
How often do you notice exaggerated claims in politics? You hear someone in power say something that goes against what you know to be true, and you say “That’s ridiculous!” You only realize that it’s ridiculous because you’ve been following the “facts” very carefully via your favorite news outlet.
In politics, you don’t allow yourself to believe falsehoods, right? Let me ask you something… how often do you read something political that gets you FIRED UP? Chances are, you’re fired up because you just read something that is HIGHLY exaggerated, and even worse, HIGHLY BIASED. Uh oh… find yourself getting fired up even now? Good. This means that your defenses are up. Keep reading.
Facts are boring. Nobody wants those. People want drama. People want excitement. People want to FEEL good. Your emotions are getting PLAYED when sources use hyperboles to convey (mis)information.
I challenge you to fact check what you hear that really fires you up. Chances are, these crazy claims you’re hearing from x or y mass media production is a dramatization of what’s REALLY happening.
(3) The claims are overgeneralized.
First, let’s define overgeneralization – because it is a truly dangerous thing!
Overgeneralization is when you draw a conclusion or make a statement about something that is more general than is justified by the available evidence.
Without getting into a huge conversation on what counts as evidence (see more information here), you can already start to see how this is a problem. By definition, overgeneralization leads straight into the spread of misinformation.
It’s making claims about something that simply is not supported by any evidence whatsoever. A great example for this is herbal (or alternative) medicine.
While I’m not discounting herbal medicine altogether, there are wildly overgeneralized claims surrounding this topic that simply aren’t supported by enough evidence. Here is a relatively unbiased article, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, that looks at the medical validity of alternative medicine.
When it comes down to it, misinformation simply goes against the truth.
Just because something you know, or someone you trust knows, something to be true, doesn’t make it THE TRUTH…
How to avoid being misinformed
Here’s an obvious answer – seek more information!
Here’s the thing – you should be searching for information from sources that CONFIRM what you think is true, but also seek information from sources that DENY what you think is true. This is how scientists do it, and this is how we discover near objective truths.
Weigh the evidence – how many RELIABLE sources are supporting a singular claim?
Often times, a single study isn’t enough. Ask yourself – can you trust the source that is providing the information? Again, are they asking you for money or likes or follows? If they are, that should put up some red flags.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – You can’t take what people say for face value… Even if it’s coming from someone you trust!
Finally, don’t feel bamboozled because you fell for misinformation. We all do it! We are all human. The best thing you can do is to practice pointing it out. That way you can get better at it!
How to fight back against misinformation
Simply don’t feed into it.
We are living in a digital age. People and companies thrive on views, ratings, and likes… just don’t even give it the time of day. Unfortunately, bad attention is still attention.
Unlike, unfollow, unsubscribe, do what you have to do.
I know this is hard when your favorite influencer says that you’ll get a six-pack if you rub this special cream on your stomach or take their red drink, but there’s a larger ethical concern here!
Think about all of the avenues of information that you engage with everyday. Try to point out any potential sources of misinformation. Does anything shock you or surprise you?
I hope this post made you feel more informed and more equipped against all of the misinformation out there. Once you recognize it once or twice, it becomes easier and easier to spot it and call it (or him/her) on its BS. Just be careful though… people tend to get fussy when you call them out.
I can confidently say this from personal experience.
But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. 😉
Thanks for reading! If you have a comment or concern, please feel free to drop it down below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest a future topic!