When I first wrote about this topic there were reports across India of a number of fatal lynchings which had taken place. The cause was misinformation, spread with messages on Whatsapp.
While pressure was placed on Whatsapp and new initiatives were started to educate high schoolers on being discerning when reading messages. This problem certainly hasn’t gone away—if anything it is worse now.
Internet hoaxes and conspiracy theories have become a major flash point both here in Australia and abroad. What used to be generally harmless misconceptions have exploded into divisive world views. We now have far too many examples of plainly false stories leading to tragic fatalities.
Be it deaths from eating Tide Pod laundry detergent or unfounded rumors spurring on violent riots, there clearly is a major issue here. Evidently we are all more gullible than we’d like to believe!
Keep calm and think before you share! We’ve all been made highly conscious of coughing and sneezing spreading infections, so be conscious of what you share online too. A very common strategy for encouraging you to share a post online is to trigger a shock response.
Take a moment to think about what is actually being said, you might be surprised how quickly the shock diminishes when you take a moment to consider the facts presented yourself.
If it is still shocking then it must be important right? Important enough to cross check even? Checking what other people have reported about an event can give you a better perspective as you get to leverage the thinking of multiple people to inform your own thoughts.
For example, if you read something and think that there is an agenda behind the post, find a different perspective with a different agenda and compare the facts given. Furthermore, If you can’t verify it then perhaps you shouldn’t share it. Or perhaps write yourself about not being able to verify the veracity of a post.
Beware of being lazy.One way our laziness creeps in is through our biases. Just like you can practice riding a bike to the point that it is as natural as walking; You can also practice thinking in specific patterns. Making decisions is much faster with such practice but you can also practice unhelpful patterns, leading to poor choices.
To phrase it another way, your mental bias can blind you to what the truth might really be.
One way to tackle your biases is to talk about why you think a post is true or false. Particularly other people who have had a different upbringing will bring their own lense to a discussion. Both people stand to learn in this case and it can be a great way to illuminate our blindspots.
Often learning involves being wrong or uninformed before being correct. So be patient with one another and accept that you might be wrong. Be gracious and patient with other people too as they walk on a journey of learning.
Even when putting in hard work to verify stories you hear online, you can still be wrong, watch out for that pride creeping in and clouding your judgment!
Serving your friends on social media
Many times hoaxes and conspiracies prey upon people's good intentions to do the best by their friends. Turn that good will to a good service for your online community and apply some critical thinking to the media feed which you consume. It could save you some embarrassment but in the extreme someone's life.
Sam Gillespie is a composer, programmer and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html