TAMPA, Fla. — Experts who study fake news trends often know that their message correcting the record to a large group of people can fail. But if they can convince a person to share misinformation or spread lies, that in itself can be a big win for society.
The same analogy can be said about the impacts of the coronavirus vaccine. Dr. Kevin Sneed, Dean of USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy, explained it best.
“Each individual who receives a vaccine is potentially three to four lives saved,” Dr Sneed said. “You know, if we really think about how do you know how many people one person, one infected person can come in and infect? So if I can help stop this with even one person, we can start helping.
Long before the pandemic, disputed elections and climate change deniers, misinformation was spreading across the world like wildfire. Today it looks more like hell as a growing digital world consumes our real worlds.
“A good conspiracy theory, which is a good old-fashioned story, makes me feel like, oh, that’s why that’s why we’re kind of drawn to it because the reality is actually harder to digest,” director Claire Wardle said. of First Draft News told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska.
“So we’re all a bit overwhelmed with information. But there’s a problem that during a pandemic when information changes as we get more data and research. It’s hard for our brain to catch up with its delay. We want certainty, we want clarity, and that’s impossible during a pandemic.”
Wardle said people tend to consume information that confirms their own beliefs. Sensational reporting and conspiracy theories are part of human nature, but everyone needs to rethink what we consume on TV, the internet and social media.
“So while fact checks are important, and it’s good that we have them if you believe something, just reading an article that says you’re wrong doesn’t make us say, ‘oh, thank you to let us know,’ we tend to double down on our beliefs. That’s why it’s such a problem for our society,” Wardle said.
“But I don’t think people in the United States take disinformation seriously enough. And you’re absolutely right, when we look globally, there are some really serious examples of how disinformation has fundamentally tore the fabric of a community. And, I don’t think we’re that far from that in the United States and that’s what’s so disturbing.”
ABC Action News has partnered with the national nonprofit Media Literacy Project to try to stem the tide of misinformation. You can take steps to empower yourself not to be lied to. A quick checklist on how to spot fake news is a great start. You can even take online tests to gauge how easily you might be fooled.
According to the nonprofit, we should acknowledge that the term “fake news,” which rose to prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign, has become overused and weaponized. However, the reality is that misinformation is much more complex and varied than the use of a single term would indicate. There are five types of misinformation: satire, fake content, impersonator content, manipulated content, and fabricated content.
The mission is to help everyone share and consume only credible information. Take the time to verify the author, check sources, ask when the post was posted, if the images associated with the report are real or doctored or from an entirely different event. Is the content designed to be inflammatory or drive you crazy? These metrics are red flags that someone is most likely trying to manipulate you. Take one quiz to test your skills.
“Now I’ve been studying this for 10 years, and we’re just seeing more of it, and we’re finding that the impacts are more harmful. So yeah, that’s a tough conversation to have,” Wardle said. “But, I think we have to have it because if we put it aside, historians are going to look back and say, you know, 2022, they were sitting there watching Netflix, and they didn’t realize that in fact, you know, the country was falling apart. So I agree with you, unfortunately, is that we have to take this much more seriously than we are.”
We are approaching an election year. So we will see more and more lies spreading on social media. But misinformation about the COVID-19 virus and vaccines hasn’t stopped since the pandemic began. Some health officials are fighting an endless battle.
What is your advice to families and how can they fight misinformation? How can parents get ahead? Paluska asked Dr. Sneed.
“You know, I get that question, very often when I’m doing different interviews, and I know we’re on tape, I’m just talking to you as a reporter right now. But, you know, to be perfectly honest, uh, we find, I find it very difficult,” Dr. Sneed said.
“I find it increasingly difficult to answer this question because, you know, I’m not here at two in the morning when people are consuming a large amount of information. And misinformation can happen at any time. and go around the world. And then here I am, trying to demystify something that was already part of the fear that an individual started to feel, to begin with.
But Dr. Sneed is optimistic because he knows that if he stays on the message and provides factual, up-to-date medical information, people will eventually listen. A person can spread the truth in their community through their platforms as quickly as anyone else working to undermine society.
“When people have the opportunity to hear a credible resource from a credible person like me and the team we have here at USF, it really starts to do, at least, make the individual wonder what he heard, what they were exposed to. Or, now see the other part that hadn’t been explained to them before,” Dr. Sneed said.
“A lot of times I hear people say, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before. And I say, well, yeah, that’s why I’m here to talk to you now to make sure you get really good, up-to-date information in a way that you can take home and understand and make a better decision than what you’ve been told so far.”