Misinformation has become a powerful force in our society, so it is important to understand the roots of the problem, analyze content for its accuracy and truthfulness, and encourage online safety.
One of the main reasons why misinformation succeeds is due to the lack of media literacy skills among the general public. If a person does not have the skills necessary to determine fact from fiction, it will be much easier for them to be convinced that what they are seeing is the truth, and they could go on to share the information with other people. According to Media Literacy Now’s U.S. Media Literacy Policy Report for 2020, while several states are waking up to the necessity for media literacy programs, these programs are not being prioritized.
Another reason why misinformation is successful, specifically in the digital world, is because of how quickly it can spread. According to a 2018 study from MIT, fake news spreads faster on Twitter than true stories. The researchers have speculated that this occurs because people like new information, and they get attention from it.
Professor Josh Introne at Syracuse University believes that another reason why misinformation succeeds is due to our belief systems. As Introne explains, “confirmation bias can lead us to embrace misinformation” and that many beliefs come in sets.
I have found a few conspiracy theories and pieces of misinformation that are miscellaneous and unimportant, but one major indicator for the success of misinformation is the presence of a controversial and important topic. Random celebrity conspiracy theories, for example, while they are certainly interesting, do not typically impact our lives in any way. Misinformation about COVID-19, vaccines, or politics, on the other hand, hold much more weight, and, therefore, are more successful and effective.
Misinformation has been around for an extremely long time, even dating back to the 18th century, so it is virtually impossible to completely eliminate this plague.
As I stated previously, the lack of media literacy skills programs is a major contributor to the success of misinformation. We should not be focused on completely eliminate misinformation from society. Rather, we should be focused on ensuring that everyone has access to the proper resources and skills needed to combat fake news when they stumble upon it.
Organizations such as Common Sense Education are providing resources to schools and educators to help them teach their students how to analyze media and information.
The News Literacy Project is another organization that is working to provide educators and the public with skills regarding how to fight misinformation. They also provide resources for global education.
We must also ensure that services such as public libraries receive sufficient funding so they can continue to teach misinformation detection techniques and provide resources to those who might not have access to them.
It is absolutely vital that we continue to dig deep to find the roots of misinformation so that we can figure out how to branch out and explore new perspectives and ideas about combating misinformation