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.
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.
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.
Once you’ve found information online – or someone has shared it with you – how do you know if it’s true, or at least credible? In other words, how do you authenticate the information? The Internet is a unique medium in that it allows anyone – not just experts – to write on any topic and to broadcast it to a wide audience.
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.
One of the hardest things about being a responsible sharer is to be aware of your own biases, the reasons why you might be more likely to believe something without evidence. These are aspects of the way we think that can lead us to accept false statements, reject true ones, or simply not ask enough questions.
The internet is all about sharing – sharing news, sharing videos, sharing our thoughts and opinions with our friends.
Because social media makes us all broadcasters, we have a responsibility not just to avoid sharing misinformation but to take action when people in our network share it.