Misinformation is easy to spread. I’d bet money we have all witnessed this phenomenon on social media. Let’s look back for a second to before these digital platforms arrived—the days of primary school gossip. You have visions of four square (not the app) and Lunchables, enviable amounts of free time and the all-classmates invited birthday parties? We told each other some weird tales. Our imaginations were churning, I don’t blame us. Now imagine giving the kid who claimed to be able to do ten mid-air flips off the diving board a microphone. And then another kid, or maybe even teacher, turns on the overhead PA system and broadcasts what the kid with the microphone is saying to the whole school. The information this prolific diver is claiming doesn’t change but it sure spreads faster, further, and seems a lot more official when amplified by technology (is audio equipment technology, for this metaphor I say, “yes”). Enter social media and ubiquitously referred to “fake news.”
And it’s like a pyramid scheme—no one thinks they’re the one getting duped. How can that be the case? What can we, both as health communicators and as information consumers, do about it? Here are some key concepts to whet your whistle: third-person effect, Spinoza, relationship currency. Those are some interest-piquing words right there.
Give a read to “Why we lie to ourselves and others about misinformation” by Dr. Southwell (who is the social marketing course instructor to two of this here blog’s bloggers, and who also just led an insightful guest lecture which Casey will tell you all about later in the week). If/when inspiration strikes, submit your ideas for the Rita Allen Foundation’s Misinformation Solutions Forum.
On Monday, our class had the pleasure of hearing UNC’s own Stephanie Brown discuss her most recent article “New Stories Credible or Clickable: Schema of Fake News to Corrections” featured in Communication: Journalism Education Today. Stephanie Brown is the director of the Parks Library at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism and is expert in news literacy and how to detect false news. Her presentation focused on the best ways to detect if an article is considered credible or in today’s newly coined phrase “fake news”. She began her presentation with an exercise “Would you share” to get our class thinking about the creditability of articles and if we would feel comfortable sharing them on our own social media platforms. This lively discussion brought up some of the consequences of sharing inaccurate news information and how we go addressing others who share these types of stories. Then she moved on how ways to identify articles that are “fake news” and unreliable sources through a comprehensive checklist. She went through the checklist with a few example articles that captive our class’s attention. The checklist was originally developed by the News Literacy Project and includes about seven items. A few examples of the items on the checklist include looking out for articles that are overly emotional, that use excessive punctuation, make a claim about a secret that the media is hiding from you and the types of sources the article cites. One interesting item on the checklist that she harped on was looking at the advertisements and sponsored content on the sides of the article. That can be a telling item if the advertisement is featuring “Lose 5 lbs in a week with this new pill” vs. “Visit Florida” in determining the credibility of the content.
Here is the full News Literacy project checklist: http://www.thenewsliteracyproject.org/sites/default/files/DontGetFooled_FINAL_020518.pdf
Fake news has been dominating headlines over the past year. Although much of the publicity has been related to politics, fake news about health may be more widespread and difficult to identify.
But what exactly is fake news?
By definition, fake news is the deliberate spread of misinformation with the intention of making political or financial gain. Ultimately it may cause individuals to make health decisions that lead to harm or suffering.
How do you identify fake news?
HealthNewsReview.org is a health news watchdog at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health that offers 10 benchmarks to evaluate the truthfulness of health care reporting.
Before taking any article at face value, ask yourself the following questions. Answering no indicates a red flag for truthfulness or accuracy.
Does the story…
- sufficiently discuss the costs of the health intervention?
- adequately quantify the benefits of the intervention?
- avoid exaggerating potential benefits or ignoring potential harms?
- acknowledge the quality of evidence?
- avoid over-selling or exaggerating the findings?
- include comment from independent sources and identify potential conflicts of interest?
- compare the new intervention with those already available?
- clearly state how available the intervention is for consumers?
- show what is truly new or different about the intervention?
- mostly repeat a news release?
Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute, acknowledged in an article in the Atlantic – “In science, good information is really boring. Science doesn’t leap ahead the way journalists like to cover it.”
Bottom Line: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.