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Fear and anxiety spread online misinformation

Posted at 4:51 PM, Jun 15, 2020

You've probably heard and possibly fallen victim to some of the misinformation that is so easily spread through the internet or social media. Some of it incites fear and has law enforcement keeping track of what's true and what's false.

It's the classic case of don't believe everything you read, especially when it comes to the internet. As protests spread across the country, so has misinformation.

In Orange County, California, the sheriff's office calmed fears by posting on their Facebook page, saying "it's normal for rumors and uncorroborated information to spread" and that "these rumors do not appear to be legitimate. Bad actors can emerge to intentionally cause confusion and spread false or misleading information to generate anxiety."

They added that the community then unintentionally shares the message and unintentionally shares that anxiety.

Most recently, in Washington D.C., the chief of police addressed the hashtag "DCBlackout" which falsely claimed communications outages and gained a huge following. In a press conference, Chief Peter Newsham said there was no communication loss and then said, “that’s why I rarely take a lot of the information I get from social media on its face.”

Donald McLaughlin with the Denver Based cyber security firm CP Cyber says things like this are a recurring problem.

“That is a battle the entire country has been battling for the past decade since the internet took off,” he said.

McLaughlin suggests carefully reviewing the information source you're looking at. What else have they posted and are those posts credible?

“When I say look at the source, it’s not just looking at other things they’re posting but the technology side too,” said McLaughlin. “There are ways to look up domains and users to see how long they’ve been active, if they’ve only been active for this one thing, it’s likely not true.”

But if that's a bit too techy for you, turn to Google, or whatever search engine you use.

“In researching, the truth and finding out the truth is hard, because there’s so much misinformation, but you can use something that’s called a negative key word, put a minus sign in front of it.”

That will get you more relevant results and more relevant information. And then, keep in mind- especially in times of unrest, someone is always trying to get your attention.

“Typically, there’s an agenda and unfortunately, groups and individuals are using social media for their agenda and technology is getting to the point where you can have a bot and crawl Facebook to figure out exactly what you need to say to capture a certain audience.”

McLaughlin says to remember that your every click is being watched, and every kind of advertiser is paying for information about your interests. You can easily turn off some of that by going into your privacy settings and changing the ad settings. And, always do your own research before you believe what you read.