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Misinformation Online and How We Can Combat It.

Chloe Nelson


The rise of “fake news”, or the spread of misinformation and disinformation online, over the past few years have raised many ethical concerns. In the University of Michigan video, “Types of Inaccurate Information and How to Spot Them”, Brian Weeks explains many different types of inaccurate information that can be found online. While explaining the different types, he discusses how much of this information is used to create support or opposition for political candidates and policies. One example that he gave was that illegitimate news stories were created about Donald Trump receiving endorsement from the Catholic Pope when he was running for president in 2016, as well as about President Obama signing in a law where he banned the pledge of allegiance in schools. Both of these articles were false and fabricated, but without digging deeper into, it can be spread and many people may believe that it is real. Due to the fact that many of these stories can play to certain political ideologies or personal beliefs, many people will view the information without even questioning it, and can spread it to others on their social media feeds, or by talking about it with other people in person. With misinformation and disinformation online, it is extremely apparent how easily manipulated people are. Falling for fake news does indicate a lack of intelligence, instead it indicates how these fake news creators cater to their intended audience. An important aspect of learning how to combat these creators is to learn and educate yourself on how to evaluate online news sources to prove their reliability and credibility.

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

The University of Iowa gives a list of ways to spot fake news and strategies to consider when trying to evaluate a news source. The university lists 8 different ways to evaluate a news source to help decide if the story is credible or not. These include considering the source, reading beyond the headline, checking the author, looking at the supporting sources, checking the date it was created, researching the site or person that made the story, checking your own biases, and asking an expert (whether it be a librarian, teach, fact-checking site, etc.) to see if the news story or site is legitimate. All of these serve the purpose of thinking critically and beyond the news story itself. While all of these strategies are important ways to validate information, I find that considering the source/checking the author, looking at supporting sources, and checking biases are the most critical strategies to develop in order to determine the credibility. By looking into the source and the author, you can begin to see if the site or person has a history of making fake information up, or using misleading information online just to receive views and reads. When you check the supporting sources of a claim, you can investigate how they came to their conclusions or where they got their information from, and if they are framing that information in a misleading way. Finally, a largely important skill that many people need to develop, including myself, is learning how to check your own biases. When we see information that supports our ideas or beliefs, we tend not to want to figure out if that information is credible or not. This tendency can lead to many false narratives that can spread dangerous misinformation.

One very recent example of a spread of misinformation online came from a TikTok that sparked rumors that Kanye West cheated on his wife, Kim Kardashian, with the YouTube beauty guru, Jeffree Star. In this TikTok, a woman frames the topic of Kim Kardashian filing divorce papers as having been a direct result of Kanye West being unfaithful with Jeffree Star. This quite literally started a media frenzy, as many different news outlets used this TikTok to create even more drama surrounding the divorce of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. However, a few weeks later, the TikTok’s creator came forward to say that the story she made was fake and made up. She deliberately chose to create a story that utilized misleading content (framing an issue in a misleading way) and fabricated content (100% false information used to deceive) in order to receive fame and recognition. However, much of this spread of misinformation could have been avoided if the four strategies that I deemed as critical were used. For example, if you look into the author of the TikTok, Ava Louise, she is known for her controversial videos, and has appeared on the reality TV show, Dr. Phil. While on the show, she boasted about a video she had made of her trying to start a “coronavirus challenge” where you lick a toilet seat. If you had looked at her sources, you would soon realize that she had none to back up her information. She literally stated that “those in the scene” knew about the supposed affair between Jeffree Star and Kanye West. Lastly, biases very much need to be checked when looking at this case. With celebrities in particular, drama is a juicy topic that many people crave. The story Ava Louise created was so outlandish that many people wanted to believe it, especially amid the already publicized divorce between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Stories like these can cause devastating and widespread effects and can be harmful for the creator of the fake information. Both Jeffree Star and Kanye West are public figures, and negative news stories about affairs could have devastating effects on both their personal and professional lives.