Before I became a journalist, I lacked the skills I accomplish now to detect and avoid misinformation while engaging in activities involving internet use. I am cynical, so I’m naturally skeptical of everything I hear, for better or worse, and I can admit that. So considering encountering, believing in, and interacting with misinformation, I think I’ve done an outstanding job all my life of not adding wind to the sails of the rampant misinformation that so effortlessly floats across the internet. One of the most harmful things you can do is either knowingly or unknowingly contribute to rumors about a person, place or thing that is untrue.
Misinformation certainly isn’t a new concept to me. One of the first times I consistently spotted online deception was when I joined Facebook years ago. Specifically, that site has impacted my family the most regarding misinformation. My mother, my gullible younger brother Alex and my grandmother were the usual suspects, getting caught up in phony celebrity deaths, political shams, and scams. I don’t have a Facebook anymore, but when I did, I would often see some of the posts that conned them beforehand and would sometimes understand how the fix thrived. Facebook’s format is laid out in a manner where “headlines” emerge on the user’s timeline, usually presented in a way that resembles legitimate news articles. Here is an example.
A decade later, Facebook still holds the reputation of a domain riddled with misinformation, which isn’t surprising since Youtube, and Facebook contains algorithms allowing it to “monetize animus and rage,” according to the disinformation age. To gauge the scale of how rampant misinformation is on Facebook, the Washington Post ran a story that analyzed data during the 2020 U.S. election period, revealing that Facebook users clicked on fake news six times more often than factual news.
Misinformation has played quite a role in my family’s life. I cannot stress how many elders in my family have said they are engaging in and following political matters on Facebook, which has been accused of supporting glaring biases. Countless conversations have centered around Facebook posts or “articles” influencing the reputation of certain politicians or political movements within my family. According to Bennett, W.L., and Livingston, S., “Facebook may be the largest purveyor of right-wing media content and disinformation in the world today”(2021, p.22)
Additionally, communities all over the United States were significantly impacted by the spread of misinformation by a wide range of media platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, there were many outlets that stirred confusion by telling people to wear gloves in public, whether it was CDC approved or not. Also, there was and is still a ton of misinformation going on about how the virus originated in Wuhan, China. For example, there is a theory that the deadly virus manifested after a citizen of Wuhan consumed a “bat soup” at a market in China.
Recently, the BBC released a report that stated, based on DNA evidence, that the virus actually originated from consuming a “raccoon dog.”
This is particularly harmful because it portrays China and its citizens in a derogatory fashion. There is no solid evidence that proves that is why the COVID-19 virus spread, however: I bet if you were to ask any of your friends or family what started the Coronavirus pandemic, they would say that it was either lab-made in China or due to eating one of the said animals in the Wuhan market. This a perfect example of how fast misinformation can become “fact” in public perception.