by Emer O' Shea
If asked, whether you could tell the difference between “fake” and “true” news, how would you reply? Irrespective of age, education, or political allegiance, most of us are susceptible to political disinformation, conspiracy theories, miracle medical remedies, or even damning gossip.
Social media and the internet are very hospitable to inaccuracies, and the more emotional valence (both goodness and badness) something has, the more likely people will share. The more novel, or surprising something is-eliciting a fearful response or a surprise joy-the more likely people will pass it along.
Distinguishing between nonsense and truth isn’t always clear cut. We tend to go to the same sources and the same people, giving them more column inches, airwaves time, or ‘likes’. We never challenge our own social and political bubbles or biases. We rarely apply scrutiny when something just doesn’t sit right. We believe that which is consistent with and comfortable within our own ideologies. Confirming instead of challenging ingrained prejudices. By sharing more of the same, we create a ripple effect of falsehoods that can misinform.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started (for a reason I still don’t understand) to send a “Fact of the Day” to a group of friends. Every day, for 100 days, I made a slide with facts, stories, and trivia to send out. I did themes, special occasions and in all instances tried to make it fun by adding pictures of dogs. Wildly fun, right?!
Every day, I picked a topic or decided upon something I wanted to learn more about, using it as an excuse to assimilate information on a random subject. I enjoyed it, spending dedicated time every day to learning. I had to make sure what I was sending was accurate, becoming obsessed with double checking various sources to validate my ‘facts’. On a couple of occasions, I had to scrap ideas if I thought they were in any way dubious.
Hold on- why is my little anecdote even relevant? Because, it reminded me that while not everything you read on the internet is true, it shouldn’t stop us from using it to learn more about our world, the forgotten history that shapes us, and our present-day reality. I know more about Bubblewrap, Bees, Gold, Nobel Laureates, the Principality of Sealand, Ramadan, and Ralph Bunche than I ever knew before. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I’m going to keep learning more of what I don’t know. But hey, I’m sitting at home in a vacuum chamber of my own opinions, exacerbated by the boredom of 2020. I’m not the purveyor of truth-I'll remain indignant if you say otherwise!