Media literacy

How to fight fake news with media literacy

TAMPA, Fla. – If anyone is still wondering what the real impacts of spreading misinformation can do, look no further than the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Misinformation and disinformation are like digital viruses, and we’ve seen them make the spectacular leap from cyberspace to the streets of Washington DC

Experts say that collectively, as a society, we all need to be smarter about what we tweet, retweet, like, share, share or post on YouTube. Otherwise, the fallout from the continued spread of false information will slowly tear our society apart.

+Recommended: News Literacy Week: Spotting Fake News in a Digital World


Fake news spreads on social networks like a virus. No problem is safe. Immigration, climate change, politics and COVID-19 are all prime targets for fake news.

Recently, COVID-19 and polarization in politics have become the main targets.

“Truth decadence is the term we use for the diminishing role of facts and data in our political and civil discourse,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, senior scientist at RAND Corporation, a global think tank.

Kavanagh’s research reveals a troubling trend.

“The most shocking thing we’ve found is that a third of people get information from sources they themselves say are less reliable than other sources,” Kavanagh said. Thus, they know that the sources of information they use are not reliable, but they continue to use them. »

Kavanagh watched in horror as the Capitol was overrun. Now she’s worried about what’s next?

“Moving to now, we saw a really dramatic event on Capitol Hill with injuries and deaths. Is it sufficient? Or do we have to go lower before some people change their minds?”

“It’s a clear demonstration of how misinformation has traveled. It doesn’t stay static; it mutates, it changes, it jumps from platform to platform,” Kavanagh said. extremes like Reddit, 4chan and 8chan. And, it’s gradually becoming more common, and that’s why it’s dangerous.

Once the echo chamber of hate reaches the masses, it’s even harder to convince people that it’s wrong. Sowing just one small seed of doubt can be enough to influence the masses.

It’s not a new concept – fake news and misinformation have always had a place in society. During World War II, Nazi Germany perfected the lie machine.

“Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth” is a propaganda law often attributed to Nazi Joseph Goebbels.

Experts say social media can exacerbate the problem.

“Correcting misinformation, once it’s already out there, will only reach a limited number of people,” Kavanagh said.


The question now. What can we do to stop the spread? And what is the difference between misinformation and disinformation?

“Misinformation is false information that is spread by mistake,” said Alex Mahadevan, senior multimedia journalist at the Poynter Institute. “It could be your aunt sharing a miracle cure for coronavirus. She just wants to help; she does not know that it is false, that it is misinformation.

Mahadevan is part of a new project at Poynter called MediaWise. Their online mission statement is “to empower people of all ages to be more critical consumers of online content. We teach people the key digital literacy skills to spot misinformation and misinformation so they can make decisions based on fact, not fiction.

The main conclusion of the MediaWise project is the belief “that when facts prevail, democracy prevails.

“Ask who is behind the information? What is the evidence? And what are other sources saying? And really, it all comes down to those three questions,” Mahadevan said.


A quick search online reveals several examples of the impacts fake news can have on society. Violent and sometimes deadly events have occurred in the United States and around the world.

2014, in Myanmar, false rape allegations circulating on Facebook led to the death of two people. A court in Myanmar later convicted five people of spreading fabricated allegations that a Muslim man raped a Buddhist woman.

2016, Washington DC, the conspiracy theory dubbed “Pizzagate” happened. Edgar Maddison Welch fired shots inside a Washington, DC pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong. The father-of-two entered Comet Ping Pong to free children from a child sex trafficking ring linked to Hillary Clinton. The ring does not exist, never existed and was entirely made.

In 2018, India was rocked by extreme violence which started with rumors spreading via WhatsApp. According to PBS Newshour, more than a dozen people were killed by mobs “convinced by messages that the people they are lynching are guilty of child trafficking, organ harvesting or other egregious acts.”

2021, Capitol riots. Five people died, including veteran Ashli ​​Babbitt, 35, a staunch Trump supporter, her family said.


Where do we go from here?

“What we saw in DC was fake news, the conspiracy theories, the things that people thought stayed on Facebook and Twitter taking to the streets became real,” Fadi Quran said. “What happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook.”

Quran is Avaaz’s Director of Campaigns. The non-profit organization was launched in 2007 to be a voice for global issues related to human rights, healthcare, climate change and democracy. Their goal now is to fight fake news.

“We start living in these echo chambers believing things about our neighbor, our families, our communities, our leaders that are not true because we are so inundated with these lies,” Quran said. “Last year, there were about 2x more views across the US on misinformation content on social media compared to 2016. So the problem is only getting worse.”

The Quran says the good news is that most people have not fallen for these kinds of conspiracy theories. The concern remains that if we don’t educate everyone on how to use social media responsibly, fake news will continue to spread, causing governments to collapse.

“The threat here is that in other democracies around the world, this type of scenario where society continues to tear itself apart because of lies actually leads them at least to chaos at worst to civil war,” Quran said. .

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska asked the Koran to note that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube censor social media.

“They really don’t change them. The truth is that they use bandages on gunshot wounds in our democracy,” Quran said. “If we fix this, researchers say across Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, this alone could reduce the reach and impact of false and misleading content by up to 90%, that’s huge. But yes, after the responsibility of the tech platforms to clean up their act, there is an individual responsibility on all of us until it happens to be careful. Trust but verify. Always to make sure we ask how can I get my information, what kind of information is it and is it from a verifiable and trustworthy source.


Twitter and Facebook recently banned former President Donald Trump from their platforms. We contacted Facebook about Quran’s claim that they put “bandages on the gunshot wounds”.

We received a lengthy media response from Facebook with several links on how they stop the spread of misinformation.

Facebook’s Kevin McAlister said he has a three-part strategy to stop the spread of fake news.

“For example, we’ve cracked down on fake accounts, which are often the ones spreading false information – we now deactivate over a million fake accounts a day upon creation. We’re also eliminating voter suppression or any misinformation that could cause real-world violence or imminent harm. We also reject any advertising debunked by our fact checkers,” McAlister said.

The Quran says knowledge is power. And he is still optimistic about the future of social media and what can be a powerful tool for the good of our society.

“I think there is hope. I don’t want to sound desperate, I think our generation can actually be the generation that makes America stronger, safer and solves this problem,” Quran said. “We don’t need the next generation, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

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