Misinformation is one of the most popular information disorder terminologies and the one that is most widely transgressed. Private individuals are also more likely to share misinformation, compared to disinformation – here’s why.
Misinformation involves the sharing of false or inaccurate information, without knowing them to be false, without the intent to cause harm and sometimes with the goal of helping recipients. Note the emphasis on sharing, rather than creating the message. Creating the message will be disinformation (which involves the deliberate intention to generate information disorder), like this fake Facebook screenshot that claims the DSS used 2013 pictures as evidence of arms recovered in Sunday Igboho’s home in 2021.
Some examples of misinformation, according to Claire Wardle, a leading expert in user-generated content and verification, are “inaccurate photo captions, wrong dates, false statistics, translations and when satire is taken seriously”. Satires involve the use of humour, exaggeration or irony to mock, ridicule or expose the weaknesses, inadequacies or shortcomings of individuals, leaders, authority figures and institutions. The fact that the publishers of misinformation do not intend to cause harm does not imply that it is safe or acceptable to share misinformation.
Dubawa fact-checked the claim that certain foods cure blood pressure and discovered that this is not true. While the intention behind the claim may be noble, media audiences who read and believe the message may be harmed if they rely on it to cure their blood pressure rather than follow medical advice.
It is similar to this recommendation that inserting garlic cloves in the ear could cure ear-infection. Individuals who need to visit the ear, nose and throat clinics may not do so and their situations could deteriorate due to this misinformation. Just as this claim that eating ewedu (a vegetable) will cure COVID-19 may prevent infected individuals who are positive from following medically approved treatment options and safety protocols. They are thus more likely to keep infecting others while their health may deteriorate.
It is, therefore, important to learn how to avoid sharing misinformation in order not to give credence to false information and to prevent the harm they may likely cause to individuals and the society.
Steps to avoid sharing misinformation
The first step is to stop and think. One of the major reasons why misinformation is widely shared is because most people share messages in a hurry before they even get the time to evaluate and consider the authenticity of the messages and the implications of sharing such messages to the society. Academic research has validated this suggestion, noting that people are more likely to identify misinformation when they take time to think about the message – why and how it has been published, compared to when they share in a hurry without being deliberate. So pinch yourself, bite your tongue, step on a mental break – you will need to build the ‘don’t share too quickly’ muscle as it appears that people’s default programming is to quickly share.
Check out your Biases – we all have them. The challenge, therefore, is that we are more likely to share misinformation that conforms with our previously held biases without giving them serious thought. Thus, identifying your vulnerabilities about issues will help you to assess the veracity of messages before you share them on social media. For instance, Nigerians who are die-hard Buhari fans are more likely to have shared a misleading post purportedly from Festus Keyamo about President Buhari’s virtues. It is therefore not surprising to see very enlightened people share outlandish messages on social media because those messages align with their biases. How do you handle this? Try prebunking.
Prebunking, according to Laura Garcia and Tommy Shane involves “the process of debunking lies, tactics or sources before they strike”. What that means in simple terms is empowering yourself with general knowledge as well as information about how information disorder is created, so that you can spot information disorders like misinformation when you get them. Reading different types of fact-checks on Dubawa for instance, can build your knowledge about information disorder, prevent you from believing in similar ones that you will be exposed to and hence, from sharing them as well. There is also a game designed by Sander Van Der Linden and Jon Roozenbeek that can help you with prebunking.
Now, most news sources have some inherent biases regardless of the objectivity principle that guides news organisations. While some have very low biases, others can be rated as highly biased, depending on how they cover issues, especially those that affect either their proprietors, funders and/or the journalists who work in the organisations. Assessing the source of news (if it is known) and evaluating the interests of the source in the shared information can help curb the spread of misinformation. Propagandists have also been known to sometimes falsely attribute their claims to prominent people in order to give it credibility. Although this news bias chart did not rate news organisations in Nigeria, it can give you a few tips on how to rate the media organisations that you are exposed to.
You may also want to assess your emotions when online. Your mood, a lot of times, dictates how you react to posts on social media. So if you are angry or anxious, you are more likely to share misinformation, compared to when you are calm and more rational. Researchers have found that using social media when you are angry may make you more susceptible to sharing misinformation. Let’s say you were harassed by policemen on your way home from work, then you got home and saw this photo claiming that suspended Police Chief Abba Kyari had been extradited to the United States – applying this study’s postulations will imply that you are more likely to share the photo without being critical, compared to if your journey home from work had not been eventful.
Another important way to curb the spread of misinformation is to alert people to the fact that such information, regardless of how much they have gone viral, is false. You can do that by showing, through logical reasoning, that the facts do not add up. You can also provide links to other websites that contain evidence that can be used to debunk the misinformation. If the misinformation has been in circulation for a while, chances are high that fact-checking organisations like Dubawa would have done a check on it. Visiting the websites of fact-checking organisations, getting the links to their fact-checks and sharing it to all the platforms where you can find the misinformation that have been fact-checked is crucial. It is necessary to break the chain of misinformation by countering it with evidence because people tend to believe misinformation if they are exposed to it consistently, even if it is not ordinarily logical.
What’s more, countering misinformation with evidence will serve as a caution to those sharing misinformation, while you will also be more guarded about the authenticity of the information that you share since you will not want to be called out for committing an error that you preach against.
To end, information disorder is not going away soon. Individuals need to continuously empower themselves to better counter misinformation as advances in information and communication technologies continue to enhance the skills of information disorder merchants to create more sophisticated, complex and believable disinformation.