Misinformation and Disinformation, a News Literacy Project Webinar

"Fake news!"  Misinformation, or what is now called "fake news," has existed in some form or another for a long time.  Previously, it has been called "propaganda."

I have always had an interest in teaching people how to verify information.  I was taught in Library School that peer-reviewed and/or primary sources are the best sources for credible information.

With the Age of the Internet, however, most people are not getting their information from peer-reviewed or primary sources.  Some may be getting their information from unreliable sources.  From childhood, we are taught to believe sources in written form.  As such, we are much more inclined to believe something that we see in written form online, from someone we trust.  The question is, where did our trustworthy source get their information?

I was privileged to attend a webinar called, "Productive Conversations Without Confrontation," by a non-partisan non-profit, the News Literacy Project.

The webinar included three speakers. DeMario Phipps-Smith of the News Literacy Project, Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer of the National Institute of Civil Discourse, and Chelsea Cartwright of the League of Women Voters shared some valuable ways to disseminate information. What follows are the most important takeaways I observed from each speaker.

Three Critical Skills in Information Dissemination

Whether it is misinformation (incorrect facts with or without malicious intent) or disinformation (incorrect facts with malicious intent,) Phipps-Smith points out three critical skills that anyone can use to determine the authenticity of the information provided:

  • Critical Observation
  • Lateral Reading
  • Reverse Image Search

According to Phipps-Smith, the "key to critical observation is to "slow down."  He says,

"Engaging in careful observation minimizes your emotional response so you can engage in critical reasoning."

Lateral reading, means that you literally open different tabs by different authors on the same subject.  Don't just read one source.  He says that this helps to determine the "author's credibility, intent and biases."

Reversing an image source can help you to verify with fact checking websites like Snopes.com.  You can check to see the accuracy of a photo by dropping images into images.google.com (not Google Lens).

Rebuilding Trust

Dr. Lukensmeyer demonstrated the level of distrust that Americans now have towards each other, which creates a, "vicious cycle of fractured trust."  The key to solving America's divisions is to rebuild trust, according to Dr. Lukensmeyer.

She says that there are several layers of trust that you can help to rebuild:

  • Personally inventorying your "relationships, trust with democratic institutions, and trusted information sources."  Are you spreading mis/disinformation?
  • Interpersonally "identify those you want to rebuild relationships with, join civic organizations, and consider joining an organization that builds trust over divides."
  • Institutionally "assess your level of trust in democratic institutions, identify actions you can take, and return to basic democratic processes like working the polls, observing elections, telling your story."

Your approach to rebuilding trust depends on "generous listening, assume good intent, genuine curiosity, respectful engagement and humility," according to Dr. Lukensmeyer.

She says that "building trust now is vital and starts with all of us."

Combating Mis/Disinformation Every Day and at Election Time

Chelsea Cartwright is concerned about the effect of mis/disinformation on our lives not only at election time, but also every day.

She says that we can determine accurate information through the following every day actions:

  • SIFT
    • Stop.
    • Investigate the source.
    • Find better coverage.
    • Trace the claims, quotes, and media back to their original context.
  • Cultivate meaningful dialogue among your spheres of influence.
  • Empower civic curiosity.
  • The more that we are aware of mis/disinformation, the better prepared we are to call it out and share with others how to do so.

She discusses what you should do with incorrect information: "Do pause and reflect, do verify information, and do focus on solution building."

She says that you can protect yourself from inaccurate information by reading all sides, "keeping your guard up" because not everything is accurate, learn critical analysis, and "promote timely, accurate, and civil discourse."

Election time is a prime time for mis/disinformation.  Good ways to combat inaccurate information is to stay active, engaged, and combat misinformation.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.