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Oh, the internet … what a beautiful place and full of information. An entire world to discover in just one click.
Like in the real world, there are truths, information, and wisdom, but there are also lies, agendas, and interests that shape what is said—part of the now popularized term fake news.
Don’t get me wrong: what is “true” is subjective. Moreover, even the photos of friends on Instagram are edited so that no one has a pimple in the wrong place, a tooth not approved by Colgate, or a tire where an hourglass should have been (if you know what I mean).
In this blog post, I’m only referring to the news, scientific, or academic information.
Although nobody likes to know that they are being subjected to false news, they often say what we want to hear.
The most beautiful street
As an illustration of this situation, we have a case that happened in Portugal, when several newspapers, websites, blogs, and the national television channel (RTP1), revealed that Rua da Bica in Lisbon, was elected as the most beautiful street in the world, tied in this contest with the Champs-Élysées. For most people, this would be the case for using the Portuguese expression: “a mim, não me aquece ou arrefece” (roughly translated to: personally, it does not heat or cool me,” which means that one is not bothered by something).
The reality is that there wasn’t any contest, just a blog post from a hotel chain, advertising the cheap and beautiful destination that is Lisbon. The Portuguese newspapers quickly joined the race to share information that made the Portuguese smile, with no need to change the text between newspapers. For real, you can see it yourself: here, here, here and here.
Thus, this is a clear case of clickbait, a term discussed for a long time because the truth is that visualizations and sharing of the same information are used to obtain a financial return and support agendas. Besides that, it also shows that sometimes we create a digital bubble around us to receive the information we want – a concept known as echo chamber.
Equally, there is also a paradigm shift in the way the population receives the news. Rare are the people who buy the newspaper, or have the time to check information from different sources. The new informational normality comes from Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TV. With the reduction of reading time, media companies have to resort to creating an Instagram account and put some daily news on stories so that some are read. Check this example.
Misinformation = spread of incorrect information by mistake
Disinformation / Fake news = spread of incorrect information on purpose
But how to know what information is true/right/ recommend?
- An Influencer is not a scientific source.
- A supermodel is not a dietician.
- A gym freak is not a personal trainer.
- A plant freak is not a farmer or agronomist.
- A person who loves dogs is not a vet.
I do not claim that all the information provided by the former is wrong or false. Of course, it is just a thought that must be taken into account when we see the information given by them. Otherwise, we have people watering plants with ice cubes just because the influencer said it was better, and people eating seven lemons in a row to lose 5 kilos. Critical thinking in this situation is key.
Who wrote it?
Whenever it is necessary to analyze the integrity of the information, practice the knowledge base questions (5WH): Who, what, why, where, when. That little exercise can lead you to a conclusion, such as:
- Who wrote the information?
- What is the purpose of sharing this information?
- Is the information complete, and if not, what is missing?
- Does it have a possible agenda?
- What is the evidence?
- Is it a factual claim or a comment?
- Is that evidence from a reliable source?
- What do other sources say about this source?
- Do any trustworthy sources confirm, deny, or make no mention of it all?
Don’t forget to check the TLD (Top Level Domain) located at the URL’s back for information about the source. It can be:
- .COM (commercial),
- .ORG (organization),
- .NET (network technologies),
- .PT (Portuguese company or service),
- .ES (Spanish company or service),
- .INFO (for sharing information without selling a product or service),
- .EDU (scientific character education)
Don’t be fooled by design and graphics
Statistics discipline is the nightmare that any student, but has no mistakes with what you see. Always try to analyze the data, see the source of information, who did the study or the research. Therefore, if you find a discrepancy in the data presented, analyze whether the percentages are the total or a portion of information.
Consult these interesting links:
Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook https://libapps.s3.amazonaws.com/accounts/7759/images/OTM_Consumer_Handbook_FakeNewsEdition_800.png
From Breaking News Consumer Handbook: Fake News Edition (WNYC/WNYC) https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/breaking-news-consumer-handbook-fake-news-edition )
Other resources about this reliable information
https://research.ewu.edu/journalism/evaluation – Research Guides of Eastern Washington University Libraries
https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174 – “The Internationederation of Library Associations and Institutions (is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession.”
https://www.poynter.org/ – “The Poynter Institute is a global leader in journalism. It is the world’s leading instructor, innovator, convener, and resource for anyone aspires to engage and inform citizens. (…) we teach members of the public, helping them better understand how journalism is produced and how to tell for themselves whether it’s credible. “
https://sheg.stanford.edu/ – “The Stanford History Education Group is an award-winning research and development group that comprises Stanford faculty, staff, graduate students, post-docs, and visiting scholars. SHEG seeks to improve education by conducting research, working with school districts, and reaching directly into classrooms with free materials for teachers and students.”
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ – “Snopes is the Internet’s definitive fact-checking resource.
When misinformation obscures the truth and readers don’t know what to trust, Snopes’ fact-checking and original, investigative reporting lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis. We always document our sources so readers are empowered to do independent research and make up their own minds.”
https://www.politifact.com/ – “Fact-checking journalism is the heart of PolitiFact. Our core principles are independence, transparency, fairness, thorough reporting and clear writing. The reason we publish is to give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy.”
https://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/ – “The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has been the premier communication policy center in the country since its founding in 1993.”
https://www.factcheck.org/ – We are a nonpartisan, non-profit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”
“The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has been the premier communication policy center in the country since its founding in 1993. APPC’s work has informed the policy debates around campaign finance, children’s television, Internet privacy, tobacco advertising and the tone of discourse in Washington.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/– “The purpose of this website, and an accompanying column in the Sunday print edition of The Washington Post, is to “truth squad” the statements of political figures regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local. It’s a big world out there, and so we rely on readers to ask questions and point out statements that need to be checked. But we are not limited to political charges or countercharges. We also seek to explain difficult issues, provide missing context, and provide analysis and explanation of various “code words” used by politicians, diplomats, and others to obscure or shade the truth.”