The news is overwhelming. Attention spans decrease. Combine them with social media feeds optimized for endless scrolling, and we have an internet where misinformation thrives.
In many ways, consuming information has become a social act. We can share what we read and think through social media. Other people respond with their own thoughts and opinions. Algorithms take over all this activity, and soon enough, our feeds to feed us what to consume next – one after the other. While this may be real news and accurate information, it is often a position, inaccuracy, or even propaganda.
Of course, the Internet also connects us with reliable sources. But when it comes to social media, it’s about whether or not we stop scrolling and take the time to check out what we see and hear. So how can we fight misinformation in our endless streams? Consider these five tips.
Talk to your kids about online safety
1. Filter aesthetics
A cool infographic catches your eye? Know that it’s probably designed to do just that: grab our attention. Same with content from creators we love. One day they dance, the next day they give us health advice. Before taking what we see and hear at face value, we should ask ourselves the 5 Ws:
- Who publishes? Are they the original source of the information? If not, who is it?
- What is the subject of the post? Is it the expertise of the source or are they relaying something they experienced first hand?
- When was it posted? Is the information still relevant today or have circumstances changed?
- If it is an image or a video, where is the event represented?
- Why did they post it? Are they trying to sell you something or get your support in any way?
2. If something elicits an emotion, take a beat
Shocking images and videos can spread quickly on social media. That doesn’t mean we can’t trust them, but it does mean the stakes are higher when they turn out to be deceptive or manipulated.
Before you hit that Like or Share button, think about what might happen if that turns out to be the case. How would sharing false information affect us, other people or the whole world? Emotions can cloud our judgment, especially when a subject feels personal to us, so simply taking a moment to let our critical thinking in can often do the trick.
3. Know when it’s time to dig deeper
There may be obvious signs of disinformation. Think typos, grammatical errors, and the clear editing of images or videos. But often it’s hard to tell. Is it a screenshot of an unrelated article, or images of a large protest? Does the post address a polarizing topic?
It may even take an expert like an investigative journalist, fact checker, or researcher to determine whether a media outlet has been manipulated or whether a message is the product of a sophisticated disinformation campaign. That’s when it comes in handy to know how to find the work of experts – trusted sources.
4. Report misinformation
If you’ve determined something is wrong, report it in the app. Social media companies often rely on users to report misleading and dangerous content, so take an extra but impactful step to ensure others don’t fall for misinformation.
5. Feed your curiosity – outside the stream
REAL CONVERSATION: Our attention spans are getting shorter and getting to know the world through fast-paced visual content can be more entertaining than reading. Its good! Still, we should give ourselves time to explore what piques our interests outside of our social media apps.
Do you hear anything outrageous? Search for press articles and find out more, maybe you can even do something about it. Concerned about vaccines, a pandemic or other public health emergency? inquire and see what your local health officials are saying. Do you feel deeply concerned about a subject that everyone is talking about online? Start a conversation about it in real life. Our screens give us a window into the larger world, but looking up to notice what’s right in front of us can be great too.
This guide was created in partnership with the News Literacy Project and Teens for Press Freedom. They will host a webinar exploring teen digital habits, how social platforms have influenced Gen Z’s informational awareness, and what we can do to bring about positive change for future generations. It will take place on August 31, Wednesday, at 3 p.m. ET. Those interested can register here.
The Media Literacy Projecta nonpartisan educational nonprofit organization, is building a national movement to advance the practice of information literacy throughout American society, creating better-informed, more engaged, and more empowered individuals – and ultimately a democracy stronger.
The Teenagers for press freedom is a national, youth-led organization dedicated to promoting freedom of the press and literacy among adolescents.