Common Enemy of the Age: Misinformation

Information is at your fingertips, no matter where you are in the world…. More than two-thirds of the world uses cell phones, and the number of internet users is over 5 billion.

According to the Digital 2022 report, currently more than 58 percent of the world’s population are social media users. As people spend more time on social media due to the pandemic, 424 million new users (an increase of more than 10 percent) have been added to this circle since last year. There are currently 4.62 billion social media users worldwide. 500 million tweets are sent every day.

Let’s start by recognizing that the internet is now an indispensable part of our lives. When we are bombarded with dizzying amounts of data generated on the internet in a matter of minutes, we experience the disadvantages as well as the advantages.

Under the tsunami of information, it is now a matter of filtering the information, accessing the information needed and verifying the accuracy of the information… According to a study conducted in the US, low- and high-quality information has the same chances of success in terms of dissemination on social networks… This makes it difficult for us to determine which information is real or useful and which is useless or fake.

If correct information leads to healthy decisions and the incorrect information leads to wrong decisions, it means that the main issue is no longer the production of information, but its benefit to humanity for a livable world.

Just ten days ago, we experienced one of the biggest disasters the world has ever seen in our country. We have been hurt so much that many of us perhaps could not think clearly, we acted without stopping and thinking… On one hand, we witnessed the solutions brought by useful information sharing, the help reaching many people, and on the other hand, we also witnessed the uncontrolled spread of misinformation, deliberately or senselessly.

Misinformation or Disinformation?

Disinformation is one of the terms that most of us use even in daily life… It is a word that most of us are familiar with; it is the name given to the type of misinformation produced with malicious intentions, to intentionally mislead people. In other words, disinformation is shared despite the awareness that it is false. But nowadays we are fighting more against misinformation than disinformation, that is, information which is shared without knowing or questioning whether it is true.  Misleading or plain false information, broadly referred to as “misinformation”, can emerge from websites posing as news sources, political propaganda or “self-proclaimed deep” research that only appears to be meaningful.


What can we do to avoid spreading false content?, a well-known verification platform in Türkiye, is one of the best sources for this. Below are seven strategies published by the platform where you can read many more articles on the subject.

1.Educate yourself

The best vaccine against what the World Health Organization calls “infodemic” is to understand the tricks that disinformation actors use to try to manipulate you. One strategy for this is “preemptive refutation”. Preemptive refutation is refutation of myths and lies before you have heard them. Research shows that the ability to recognize disinformation tricks can help you recognize false news when you encounter them and make you more resilient against them. Researchers at the University of Cambridge developed a game called “Bad News”. According to their related study, this game increases players’ ability to discern misinformation.

Besides games, you can learn more about how the internet and social media platforms operate. This will give you a better understanding of the tools available to those who want to manipulate you. You can also learn more about the standards of scientific research and evidence which can help you better resist lies and misleading statements about health and scientific issues.

2.Recognize your vulnerabilities

The preemptive refutation approach works on people across the political spectrum. However, people who underestimate their bias are more vulnerable to being misled than people who are aware that they are biased (that they are taking a side).

Research shows that people are more vulnerable to misinformation that is in parallel with their existing opinions. This is called “confirmation bias” because a person tends to believe information which confirms their own beliefs.

What we need to learn here is to be particularly critical of information that comes from groups or people with whom you agree or whom you feel close to (in terms of commonalities such as political, religious, ethnicity or nationality). Don’t forget to research other perspectives and other sources on the topic.

It is also very important to be honest with yourself about what your biases are. Many people assume that other people than them are indeed biased, and that others are more likely to share misinformation than they themselves are.

3.Evaluate the source

Media organizations also have biases. The Media Bias Graph explains the most and least partisan sources and how reliable they are in reporting the facts.

You can also play the internet game “Fakey” to see how vulnerable you are to the different ways news is presented on the internet.

When consuming news, find out how reliable the source is or whether it can be trusted. Rather than trusting your instincts, check news from other sources that are less biased and more fact-based to find out who and what you can trust.

Also note that some actors spreading disinformation create fake sites that look like real news sources. Thus, be careful which site you visit. The ability to break down your own thinking process improves your ability to distinguish facts from fiction.

4.Stop for a moment

Most people go online, especially on social media, for entertainment, connection and even intentional distraction. Accuracy is not high on the priority list. However, few people want to be liars and the cost of sharing false information can be too high for individuals, relationships and society as a whole. Before you decide to share something, stop and remember the value you place on truth and accuracy.

Thinking to yourself, “Is what I’m sharing true?” can help you stop the spread of misinformation and encourages you to look beyond the headline and possibly confirm it before sharing.

Even if you’re not thinking specifically about accuracy, stopping before sharing can give your mind a chance to catch up with your feelings. Ask yourself if you really want to share this and why. Think about what the possible consequences of sharing could be.

Research shows that most misinformation is shared quickly and without much thought. The impulse to share without thinking can be even stronger than partisan tendencies to share. Give yourself time. Take your time. You are not a breaking news organization where thousands of people receive urgent news.

5.Be aware of your emotions

People often share things out of instinct rather than as a result of critical thinking. A recent study found that people who review social media feeds when they are emotional are much more likely to share misinformation than those who review them more rationally.

Anger and anxiety in particular, make people more vulnerable to misinformation.

6.Take action when you see something wrong

Resist misinformation in public. Standing up to your friends online can be uncomfortable, especially if you tend to avoid arguments. The person to whom you send a link to a verification site may be uncomfortable with their mistake held against them.

But it is known to be an effective way to think about the reasoning in a post and provide counter-evidence with links to why it is wrong.

Even short rebuttals, such as saying, “That’s not true,” are more effective than saying nothing at all. Humor can also work as long as it does not reach the level of mocking the other person. People correcting misinformation online can be just as effective, if not more effective, than social media companies flagging a post as suspicious.

People trust other people, especially those in their social circles, more than they trust algorithms and bots, especially if you have expertise on the topic or a close relationship with the person sharing the content.

Public rebuttals also have the added benefit of being implicit warnings to others to be more careful before sharing. So you are deterring others, if not the original poster.

7.If you see someone standing up against misinformation, support them

Let’s say you see someone pointing out that a news story is wrong: Don’t say, “Someone else has already said it, I don’t need to say it.” The fact that more people pointed out that this post was false suggests that sharing false information is generally frowned upon.

Stand with those who stand against misinformation. If you don’t support it and it gets shared over and over again, it reinforces the belief that it’s appropriate to share misinformation because everyone is sharing it and very few people are standing up against it

Allowing misinformation to spread makes it more likely that even more people will start to believe it. Because people start to believe what they hear over and over again, even if they know it’s not true at first.

There is no perfect solution. Some misinformation is harder to overcome than others, and some tactics are more effective at different times or with different people. But there are many steps you can take to protect yourself and the people in your social networks from confusion, deception and falsehoods.