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News Literacy Week: Spotting misinformation before sharing online

Posted at 11:52 AM, Jan 26, 2023

Misinformation is abundant, and it’s everywhere, so how can we differentiate between what’s real and what’s misinformation? Here are three tips to help you spot misinformation before sharing it online.

What can seem like an innocent share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter can actually further the spread of misinformation, and in some situations lead to violent acts or cause threats to public health. So, how can we avoid being part of the problem? First, we need to figure out what misinformation looks like. KSBY sat down with Kim Bisheff, a journalism lecturer at Cal Poly, to find out.

“The first tip is to really be tuned in to how information makes you feel,” Bisheff said. “If you read something that makes you angry or fearful, or makes you feel validated in your really strong opinion, step away. Don't react to it. Don't comment. Don't share it. If everybody just did that one step, then this information would go away overnight.”

If it doesn’t hit you in your feels and seems like it could be true, but you still aren’t 100% sure it’s factual, do some simple digging to see what other reliable, non-biased sources have reported.

“The second tip is if you do decide to engage further with that information, do just a tiny bit of fact-checking,” Bisheff said. “You would be shocked what you can find by just Googling something really quickly. And if something seems sensational, seems really outrageous, just check it out. There are nonpartisan websites out there and non-biased websites where you can learn to tell good information from bad.”

Those nonpartisan websites are not information-sharing social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or Facebook. Information on those platforms can be factual, but there’s a lot that isn’t. Over 2/3 of adults get their news from social media, a statistic that Bisheff says isn’t necessarily all bad, but it is a main source of the spread of misinformation.

“The third tip is don't just consume information through social media,” Bisheff said. “I would just like to have everybody start to mix in a little bit of primary source information. Go back to what we did in the olden days where we actually went directly to our local news instead of waiting for the algorithms to feed it to us. We're more likely to get accurate information, we're more likely to get news information instead of opinion information, and we're more likely to have a well-rounded understanding of what's happening in the world.”

Whether it’s your local paper or news station, supporting local journalism and local news can go a long way in the fight against the spread of misinformation.