WKYT Investigates | Sorting fact from fiction

Tech companies are taking some steps. But ultimately it falls on all of us to separate truth from lies.
Published: Sep. 4, 2020 at 2:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 4, 2020 at 4:30 PM EDT
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Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a five-part series targeting misinformation on social media: Why we do we fall for it? What’s the truth behind the lies? And how can we figure out for ourselves what’s fact and what’s fiction?

Part V: It’s hard to know what to believe anymore. What should I do?

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - When it comes to technology, there is not always an easy fix to the problem.

“There’s too many tricksters and hucksters and ripoff artists and people who want to influence you out there,” said Steve Hamrin, a tech expert and owner of Hartland Computer Repair.

Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have been pressured to do more about misinformation running rampant on their platforms. This week, Facebook announced it would not allow new political ads during the week leading up to Election Day. They are also doing some things like deleting fake users and flagging posts, but they cannot catch it all.

“There are businesses and governments and people you don’t even know about just dumping junk into there,” Hamrin said, “hoping that a little bit of it gets through.”

That means the responsibility ultimately falls on all of us to sort fact from fiction.

“We need something better than chaos to get information,” Hamrin said.

Beware. Sometimes it can be hard to know who or what to believe.

“Just because something might make sense to us or seems like it makes sense, is not a good measurement or the only measurement for the validity of a claim,” said Jenny Rice, a University of Kentucky professor of writing, rhetoric and digital studies and author of the book “Awful Archives: Conspiracy Theory, Rhetoric, and Acts of Evidence.”

Misinformation is quick to spread because we’re often so quick to click ‘share’ without doing any checking. Experts say there are a couple of things that should make us pause. For example, things that:

  • Make me respond emotionally in any number of ways.
  • Confirm my entire worldview.
  • Make me want to say, “I told you so.”

It is what the non-partisan, non-profit digital literacy organization MediaWise preaches, particularly to teenagers, college students and senior citizens: “Check it out.”

“The power that you hold in your fingertips and the ability to share at the click of a button, is something that’s extremely powerful and can have dire consequences,” said Alex Mahadevan, senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise and the program director for MediaWise for Seniors.

All it takes is asking a few questions, developed by Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Online Reasoning:

  1. Who’s behind the information?
  2. What’s the evidence?
  3. What are other sources saying?

“It’s 2020,” Mahadevan said. “We’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a presidential election coming up. There’s just a perfect storm of misinformation out there.”

Some strategies to further research:

  • Lateral reading: Open up a new tab to find information from another site instead of just vertically scrolling.
  • Click restraint: Search beyond the first search results that pop up.
  • Using Wikipedia: It can be a good starting point to help you find additional credible references.

All of these are ways to fight back with facts in the battle for your brain.

“There’s absolutely a misinformation industry,” Hamrin said, “and there’s very smart people creating these memes and stuff that you see.”

Experts say sharing facts, not fiction, is part of being a good digital citizen in the world wide web that truly connects us all.

Explore the COR curriculum here, including blog posts, lessons and videos on strategies like lateral reading, click restraint and distinguishing news from opinion.

Check out the rest of WKYT Investigates: The Misinformation Pandemic.

Part I: Misinformation overload

Part II: Common coronavirus myths

Part III: Political misinformation

Part IV: Lies about COVID and kids

Copyright 2020 WKYT. All rights reserved.