A recent study at Stanford University indicated that digital natives (people who grew up using technology and are comfortable and familiar with it) display “digital naïveté” by trusting sources of information that are clearly unreliable and/or biased. Digital natives know how easy it is to create and share information online, but still believe rumors, hoaxes and misinformation online.
"Digital citizenship" is a concept that encompasses the norms of responsible use of technology. To be a responsible digital citizen, you should always think critically about information before accepting it or sharing it. Being a responsible consumer of media means being careful about fact-checking and not sharing information you can’t verify (see Fact-Checking Tools section).
Truth and facts are two different types of information. Facts can be objectively proven by observing reality. They can only be changed when we observe something in reality that disproves them. Truth is the meaning that we construct from facts, experiences and prior truths. Truth can be subjective - facts are always objective.
Misinformation is not a new phenomena - it has been around since the beginning of language. The difference is the ease and speed with which misinformation can be shared and proliferated with the Internet and social media. Advances in communication and the digital revolution have made it harder, not easier, to evaluate credibility. As you know, anyone can create content on the Internet. Anyone can alter an image or create a meme - and if it appeals to someone’s bias, they are likely to engage with it and boost its signal. Opinion pieces can be presented as news and lines between journalism and uninformed information are blurred. Clickbait and propaganda further complicate the incredible abundance of information that is available to us, anytime, anywhere - we must be more skeptical than ever.
There are many different ways information can be untrue, not factual or misleading. For example:
Social media can blur contexts, making it harder to quickly determine if information is credible and leading to information reaching beyond the intended audience. When someone shares something on social media without evaluating its credibility, misinformation can go viral and be taken at face value by masses of people.
It is important to stay skeptical of all information and be vigilant about fact-checking information before sharing it. If you cannot verify something, do not share it and contribute to the problem of misinformation that can have widespread repercussions. We each have a responsibility as digital citizens to share reliable information and not perpetuate misinformation.
Websites to Fact-Check Information
Tools to Verify Images and Videos
An easy way to share misinformation is with images, memes and video. Engagement with social media posts increases when the post contains an image or video. Sometimes, an image is altered or Photoshopped and sometimes an old image is used under the guise of being current.
Reverse Image Search
You can use a reverse image search tool to evaluate an image by finding its origin and other sites on the web where the image is found. Here are two popular tools:
Upload or enter the URL of an image and error level analysis (ELA) can detect if the image has been altered
Old videos can be reuploaded with different information and described as the original or eye-witness perspective to present a biased viewpoint. You can check videos with YouTube DataViewer: http://www.amnestyusa.org/citizenevidence/ and see if the same video was uploaded years ago.
EXIF readers can tell you the date and location a photo was taken. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter remove EXIF data when content is uploaded to their servers - by performing a reverse image search, you may be able to find an image with EXIF data that you can check the date with.
Take a moment to think about your information-seeking and sharing behavior online:
We should be self-aware of our own biases in every situation. We have explicit and implicit biases that affect how we select, evaluate and consume information. All of us are prone to confirmation bias, for example, which makes information that aligns with our beliefs more appealing and believable. We also tend to stay within information bubbles, silos or echo chambers, where we agree with the information being shared. It helps to be aware of these biases and how they can influence our behavior with information.Check out Harvard’s “Project Implicit,” which tests your implicit biases.