Misinformation and how to handle it

The term “misinformation” literally means false or inaccurate information, specially that which is deliberately intended to mislead. The problem of falsifying the information, intentionally or unintentionally, either by an individual or an agency, has been a problem since ages. It has just intensified with the growth of social media, as things get viral in a matter of seconds and minutes. In the past, people mostly relied on libraries and newspapers, where information was being evaluated and assessed before publicized. However, in this modern age, people mostly want and get information in a few clicks.

The individuals, organizations, or agencies, involved in creating fake news, might be doing it deliberately to misinform the public. However, the individuals taking an active part to propagate and disseminate it, through social media platforms, may not be doing it intentionally. People tend to pay attention to those online sources and resources that reinforce their own beliefs.[1] It increasingly becomes hard for them to decide if the information is misinformation or otherwise. Additionally, information and misinformation cannot be separated in black and white; there may be many grey areas in between.

Considering misinformation or falsifying a serious problem, countries are trying to take basic measures to stop that from happening. Recently, German parliament has passed a bill to incur huge penalties on large social media networks (up to €50 million), if they fail to take off hateful or fake content from their sites within 24 hours[2]. Though it is hard to decide about the absolute authenticity of some news content, it may be a step forward to a better future in this context.

There are a few recommended tactics to keep in mind while trying to evaluate and assimilate the correct information. By applying these tactics, we can reach much closer to the truth.

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source, by using the references, to appreciate the trustworthiness and credibility of the information.
  • Read laterally: Read laterally. Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). 
  • Circle back:If you get lost, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.[3]

In the end, I would say that it’s not possible to accurately fast-check everything. But these tactics might prove very helpful if you feel a strong emotion and urge to share something with others.


[1] Howard R (2012), Net Smart: How to thrive online

2 https://www.rt.com/news/394779-germany-law-fake-news/

3 https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/chapter/four-strategies/