- Broaden your news diet. Probably the most important thing you can do is make sure that you’re not only getting news that confirms what you already believe. At the same time, it’s important not to “overcorrect” and seek out sources that have a totally opposite bias from yours, which will almost certainly just make you angry and reinforce your current opinions.
Most of us turn to online sources for news, whether it’s reading a newspaper online or sharing a news story with our friends and family. But news stories are one of the hardest things to verify: sometimes early reports that turn out not to be true still circulate on social media and people may spread false reports for political or commercial reasons, or just for “fun.”
Journalism has been described as the lifeblood of democracy, and elections, likewise, have long been journalism’s bread and butter. The relationship between the two, however, has always been fraught. Even Thomas Jefferson, a lifelong advocate for freedom of the press, said while he was president that “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
While it’s important to be skeptical of political news, especially during an election, it’s also important to be able to recognize and dismiss outright disinformation: the deliberate spreading of false or misleading information. The content of political disinformation spans a wide spectrum, from stories that might be credible (such as an endorsement of a politician from a surprising source) to those that are utterly unbelievable (such as the accusation that a candidate for national office is involved in a child-exploitation ring housed in the basement of a pizza parlour). Those spreading disinformation can include governments, political activists and even for-profit publishers (some of whom run multiple disinformation operations that cater to different parts of the political spectrum).
Two of the most important kinds of information we look for online are about health and science. These can have a big effect on decisions we make about our own lives and our opinions on controversial issues.
While many of us strongly prefer online sources when seeking out health and science information, a majority first encounter health or science stories through traditional news outlets.
Though health and science topics are subject to the same kinds of misinformation found everywhere, there are two types that are particularly common in these fields: denialism and snake oil.
Probably the most essential factor in accurately and objectively judging health and science information is to understand how science is done.
The digital age presents us with unprecedented problems when it comes to finding information and making sure that it’s true. Where our first problem used to be getting information, what’s more difficult today is filtering out what we need from what we don’t. In fact, creating and distributing information is now so easy that we can no longer assume that sources have anything to lose by spreading content that’s false or misleading. In essence, today we all have to be our own librarians, researchers and fact-checkers.
The strength and weakness of the Internet as a research source is just how much information there is: a badly-phrased search can drown you in irrelevant, misleading or unreliable results.