How can we stop the spread of misinformation?
Social media has the power to instantly share information, views and experiences to millions of people around the world. With as little as access to a device and internet connection, you can set up your account, build a network and communicate with the world. This gives us so many benefits, a prime example being the ability to connect with friends and family, beautifully illustrated during this period of lockdown. As the saying goes "with great power, comes great responsibility" and I think that sums it up wonderfully. Used inappropriately social media can do harm.
In the scientific community, when a piece of work is published, your name is located right below it and you must reference all of your sources. This is intended to allow readers to see the sources for themselves and rigorously check them ensuring they are trustworthy. This, alongside their integrity, ensures that they check their work meticulously and do not make grand statements without sufficient evidence to back it. There are both similarities and differences we can draw between academia and social media. A huge difference is the lack of accountability prominent in social media. In the great rush to share important messages, we can often lose their sources whilst passing them along and be left sharing statements without any proof.
As more and more generations being brought up with social media as a staple, I think it is incredibly important for us to appreciate the importance of accountability is. When you hit the share or forward button, I think we can all agree that, at a minimum, you should have read the post thoroughly. I would argue this is the bare minimum, I think there are some more things we must consider. When people trust you, by extension, they will often consider what you share interesting and credible making it your duty to ensure that trust is not misplaced.
I have taken some time to reflect on what I have at the back of my head when reading posts and deciding if I feel I should share it. What I have written is not the be-all and end-all however I hope you find it somewhat useful as a guide.
1. What is the source?
Now, this is one of the most important things to check. Any credible information should reference where they got the information from. If the information is not well known to be true check the reference to make sure that what the post claims matches with the source. If you can't find the source try directly asking the person who shared it and if nothing else works try googling the facts to see what you can find out. If no one is willing to put their name to their "groundbreaking" information why should you trust it?
2. Are the facts true?
If these facts are not well known to be true from credible sources, doing a little bit of digging will help you to gain some clarity. This can be a little trickier to check, however, if you have access to social media you also have the power of Google at your fingertips. In the past this may have meant spending hours in a library or tracking down, contacting and asking experts. Now we can simply google facts and see what evidence there is to back it up. This may seem tedious but I think it is definitely a worthwhile step.
3. Who wrote it?
This is really useful as a screening question as a rough guide of how reliable your information is. If you are sharing information from credible and established bodies such as the World Health Organisation it is likely to be correct and useful. Note that is is a screening question and so is a rough guide but does not mean its always worthy of sharing. In science, I have been taught that this is not always a good indicator. For example consider Andrew Wakefield who seemed trustworthy when suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism however had other ill intentions.
4. Why are you sending it?
Asking yourself why you are sharing this specific piece of information - can really help to stop fear-mongering. Sharing information that you think will be genuinely both useful and relevant is an amazing use of social media as it is a way to use your voice and promote ideas and information.
5. Think about biases
Are you sharing something "informative" because you know it's true or because it aligns with your beliefs? I definitely have had experiences where I feel that I should share something simply to reinforce my existing beliefs. This might be with the intention of convincing others to follow suit or to share my opinions publicly. Taking time to think about whether it is information or opinion is crucial and should feed into your decision on whether to share a post and how to present it.
6. If you are not sure about it, simply don't share it!
I think this point is fairly self-explanatory. If you are not confident in the information you are sharing then simply don't.
I think it is really important to empower people to seek credible information themselves to supplement what they encounter on social media. By building up a habit of checking the validity and relevance of what you share, whilst encouraging others to do the same, we have a chance to slow and maybe halt the spread of misinformation.
By Sajan Patel - Purpose Print Blog
Disclaimer: Information in our blogs are as accurate and a comprehensive as possible. This is general advice and should not be used as a substitute for the individual advice readers might receive from consulting their own doctor. For other medical professionals reading, it is advised to use your own clinical judgement when interpreting the information and deciding how to best apply this to the treatment of their patients. Please see our terms and conditions page for further information on this.