Don’t Pass The Gravy: Misinformation In The Age Of The Share Button

http://www.thechiefly.com/features/sharing-misinformation/

In the midst of the greatest spread of information we have ever seen, there is a slew of misinformation being shared from one gullible person to the next. We all have things we are passionate about, or at least want people to think we are passionate about, but as the ease of communication increases, so does misinformation.

In the world of social media, what better way to show your beliefs than with someone else’s words. This is not a fault. Often there are people better suited and more articulate at sharing your beliefs than you are yourself. For example, an article about physics is better written by a scientist than a graphic designer. That’s not to say a graphic designer can’t write an article about physics and source scientific papers. However, an author’s credibility is sharply declined without a source and oftentimes damaging.

Each piece of misinformation has minor to extreme effects on society. It’s happened countless times in history and is a major tool in starting wars, justifying slavery, making unjust laws, and genocides. Of course not every little fib or phony post is going to have that much of an effect, but one of the points I want to make is that ideas are powerful.

When Obama was running for President, before his first term, the rumor was spread that he was a Muslim terrorist in disguise. It is utterly ridiculous that after 5 years some people still believe this with “absolute” certainty. People can believe what they want, but when they start to spread misinformation to others, there should be an obligation to confront them. Ignorance shouldn’t be allowed to spread without objection.

So… why gravy? I guess because it makes things taste better. This holiday season, no one wants a dry turkey or ham dinner, but if that happens, gravy makes it go down smoothly. It is a lie to our senses. The internet is filled with different point-of-views, ideas, and activism. Many of which have strong merit. But even the most noble of causes can be subject to inaccurate data.

Can someone really argue that pollution has a positive effect on the environment, or that smoking is good for your health (smoking was once considered healthy by doctors)? Not likely. Then why do anti-smoking and environmental campaigns often exaggerate statistics and use manipulating lingo to influence an audience that is mostly supportive?

The American Lung Association lists many of the “harmful” ingredients found in cigarettes including ammonia, which, they say is found in many household cleaners. No one wants to ingest poisonous cleaners, but the argument is no better than saying water is an ingredient in many cleaners. Ammonia is a natural substance that is found in plants and soil. We also find it in cheese, wheat, soy, and many other foods we eat. According to the Department of Health, ammonia is not only produced in our bodies, but essential to it for making proteins and other complex molecules.

The way I interpret the reason for falsifying or exaggerating information is to create an outrage. Public outrage seems to be the most effective tool for many to get what they want. If enough people are pissed off, we can get laws passed against whatever we want. It appeals to peoples emotions, often neglecting logic. Anti-vaccine hype picked up steam after claims were made that vaccines may be a cause of autism in children. No evidence supports this notion, but we look for “witches” to explain unsolved problems.

If something is “outrageous”, then there should be a public outcry, but only from the facts. If there is strong evidence for your cause, stick to the evidence. Don’t use speculation or lack of evidence as part of an argument. Especially don’t pass along articles that have fake or no sources, because it passes on a lie. If you didn’t already know, there are people that write lies to purposefully mislead others. Not that your friends have malicious intent when continuing false information, but they did fall into the trap.

I am not innocent in this matter and have posted inaccurate articles in the past, but luckily I have friends who will confront me. If I am shown to be wrong, I humbly apologize and delete the post. The experiences have been embarrassing, but they taught me to be more selective of what I share, and critical of where I find information.

What I find to be more frustrating than misinforming and false articles are the posted responses that some people make after being confronted of the article’s integrity. Here are a couple I have experienced:

1) “Just because there is lack of evidence doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

Of course not, but I’m not going to believe in Santa Claus because I can’t disprove he’s real. What good is a hypothesis if there is no way to test it nor evidence to support it. The argument becomes more philosophical than scientific.

2) “I have the right to post whatever I want.”

Yes you do. It also makes you a liar.

3) “If it helps one person isn’t it worth reposting?”

This is probably the most interesting because it gives a lie a positive intent. The problem with this is that we focus on the emotional thoughts of the audience often by using fear rather than logic. What that says is you don’t trust the facts, or people, to be convinced of your idea with honesty. At that point you should probably reevaluate your own ideals.

To help prevent being fooled, approach every article with a degree of skepticism. The less evidence displayed should invoke more question.

Is the site a reputable source such as national news organizations? The less recognizable the source, the more skeptical you should become. The easiest method I have found to combating falsehood is to simply google the article, event, names, and/or places. Often times, there are people that have done the work for you.

The internet is an amazing source of information that I hope will one day be used to educate everyone, including people in countries not wealthy enough for proper schooling. It is in this idea that I feel society will continue to better itself by increasing logic and reason.

A well informed public moves progress and allows us to grow together toward better ideas. Just think before you re-post, and don’t buy into the gravy.

Josh Valliere

Josh Valliere

This Massachusetts based author is a strong advocate for social justice and political integrity. He writes commentary, reviews, and short stories.
Josh Valliere

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