We live in a data-rich world where it is sometimes necessary to comb through that data before we use it, because it can be misinformation, which is different than disinformation, although both may start with an opinion. The COVID19 pandemic is a prime example where this happens on a daily basis, contributing to the “1.7 MB of data per second,” each human has created in 2020, as explained by Jacquelyn Bulao on Tech Jury, “How Much Data Is Created Every Day in 2021?”. Remember the 3.5” floppy disk? That could store 1.44 MB of data. So, every second, each of us is generating 1.25 of those disks, or 75 every minute, 4,500 every hour, and 108,000 disks every day. That’s a lot of data to create and consume. While an important factor, the focus of this isn’t about how much data we create as much as it is how it gets created and consumed as the lines between opinions and fact get blurred.
In most of the free world, you can have an opinion without much consequence other than someone perhaps disagreeing with you as you each stand firm in your views on a given topic with varying degrees of facts or knowledge while trying to convince each other of each view. You can have all sorts of opinions like the world is flat, that the sky is falling, that COVID19 is manufactured to control you, and even that 1+1=3, although none of those may have any factual substance. Opinions can be fun.
Opinions can also be foundations for misinformation where perhaps false information is unknowingly distributed. This happens quite often on social media as data is consumed in short time spans with time-pressure anxiety to share and like, as often headlines are the precipice for distribution without validating the contents that accompany it. What results is the distribution of information that is false. While the person perhaps shared the misinformation without intent, they may have also been careless and lazy, contributing to greater societal divides or other harmful consequences unbeknownst to them.
Unfortunately, this can go one step further. There is also an abundance of disinformation on social media. Disinformation is when a person knows that the information they are sharing isn’t factual at all, but still decides to share, post, and promote it. Perhaps because it supports their opinion, perhaps because it garners them support with like-minded individuals, or perhaps with pure malicious intent.
How can you decipher between misinformation, disinformation, and facts? Sometimes it’s not easy and requires some time investment, which is a challenge in our high-data volume world with changing trends on a 15 minute to 24-hour cycle, but you owe it to yourself to check what information you’re going to allow inside of your head. You check the ingredient label on your grocery items, you check expiry dates on food, you check the label on your prescriptions, and whether you believe in vaccines or not you are also checking what’s in them regardless of which side of the argument you reside on. You do all that checking because it matters to you and what you’re putting inside your body. Shouldn’t it also matter what you’re putting inside your head?
Some basic information validation checks can include:
1. Where did the information originate from? Do you recognize the (original) source?
2. Check out the source and what kind of information they publish on a regular basis. Do they have a biased view with malice intentions?
3. Does the information make sense? Do the numbers add up? Do a search on whether there is opposing data and how far apart are the two datasets.
4. Is the information being presented in a meme (a graphic that is aimed at a specific behaviour)?
5. Is the text or graphic of the content altered in any way, where the font might be different in some parts?
6. Is the text or graphic different than what is on the official web site of the individual or organization that is being quoted or referenced?
While these are a few safe-checks you can leverage, you can also do a few other things if you don’t have the time to do these, but have some suspicions about what you saw or read:
1. Don’t click “Like” on it, even if it is your friend or family posting it.
2. Don’t share it.
3. Don’t introduce it into your “Hey, did you hear…” dialogue throughout your day.
The best way to stop the cycle of misinformation and disinformation is to diffuse it and diffuse the source(s). Besides, think of all the digital data and disk junk you’ll prevent, contributing to a cleaner data environment!
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