SEATTLE — Disinformation and misinformation run rampant on the internet, muddling the discourse in maddening, sometimes dangerous ways. Combating this tidal wave questionable information is a difficult, but necessary, task facing all of us.
“If you gave me a magic wand, one of the first things I would do would be to inject media literacy into every single classroom – not just in high school, not just at universities, but all the way down to elementary school kids,” said Jevin West, director of the nonpartisan Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. “Everyone is susceptible to this and if we can improve the information consumers, that to me is one of the best antidotes that we have.”
For the adults out there, West says there are ways to self-improve your online discourse, and that it’s never too late to be better in cyberspace. His biggest piece of advice? Think more, share less.
“There's this idea that we simply just need to share and like on things that we immediately see and get an emotional reaction for. If the world would slow down the spread of information in general, it would definitely give us all a chance to try and vet the information that's coming.”
Learning to evaluate sources of what may seem like too-good-to-be-true (or worse, too-bad-to-be-true) stories is an important part of weeding out the garbage. He explained doing further research on new sites is vital to determining accuracy: learn about a site's history, their owners and their political leanings.
Curating a network of respected, trusted sources can help you evaluate some of the more outlandish things you encounter on social media. Fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact are two examples that work to ferret out mis- and disinformation.
Additionally, supporting local news-gathering efforts – staffed by local journalists who know your community – is a crucial part of maintaining an informed democracy.
“I think it's one of the saddest stories right now,” West said. “Across America these news deserts that are popping up – these places that used to have local papers that don't have them, used to have local stations that don't have them – it's one of the most important things we can do because people are going to trust local media better.
“And unfortunately that's just all going away and people are going to the internet and just finding a lot of pollution and garbage.”
Finally, West says one of the easiest ways to be a better consumer and sharer of information online is to admit when you are wrong.
“Don't double down. That seems to be the trend of everyone on the internet now it's to double down. Admit mistakes, do your best to let those that you spread this to know that it was a mistake. But simply admit the mistake and don't double down. I think we need to do more of that our leaders need to be doing more of that and we can at least start with ourselves.”
For more information, visit the Center for an Informed Public’s website.
Sign up now for AARP Washington's Free Online Speaker Series, "Sorting Fact from Fiction"
To help Washingtonians better sort fact from fiction, AARP, the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU are offering a four-part series of free online events called Sorting Fact from Fiction: Finding truth in an infodemic. The event is open to everyone. Pre-registration is required. Sign up now at AARP.org/factfromfiction.
- Sep. 16, 11 AM -- Jevin West, Confronting Misinformation: How to avoid falling for and spreading misinformation, disinformation, and “fake news”
- Oct. 3, 11 AM -- Brett Johnson, Inside the Mind of "The Original Internet Godfather": A former Dark Web mastermind details how scammers convince you to hand over your hard-earned money
- Oct. 14, 6 PM -- Jeffrey Hancock, The Future of Lying: The new rules of deception and trust
- Oct. 24, 11 AM -- David Mikkelson & Jevin West, The Truth is Out There: Fact checking tips and resources
KING 5's New Day Northwest presents Sorting Fact From Fiction. Sponsored by AARP Washington in partnership with the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU. All segments available at king5.com/factfromfiction.