The information we consume helps us construct our perception of reality and guide our decisions, from opting to use a mask to protect ourselves from COVID-19 to whom to vote for in the upcoming election. However, according to a study by Andrew Guess and Brendan Nyahn from the University of Exeter, one fourth of all American citizens were exposed to fake news between October and November of 2016. This demonstrates that it is important to be careful with the information that we consume, especially in the current panorama: unprecedented protests against police brutality, a pandemic that affects every aspect of our lives and an upcoming presidential election between two polarizing candidates. Hence, it is imperative to know how to evaluate if the news that we consume are trustworthy, so that we can make the appropriate choices when we navigate our political reality.
This is the purpose of this article, to provide advice on being the analytical citizens this historical moment needs and protect ourselves from disinformation. The tips in this article come from the course “Navigating Digital Information” from the YouTube channel “Crash Course” and from FactCheck.org.
It is important to establish two key points. The first is that all information has the intention to persuade. All information wants to present us and convince us of a particular point of view to incentivize us to take action. Being aware of this helps us to evaluate what is the intention of the author and, if we are to follow it, we do so in a conscious manner, avoiding manipulation. The second is that none of us is infallible. The information that we consume is created by other human beings, who have their own opinions and points of view. These can permeate, in subtle ways, in even the most serious articles. Therefore, it is particularly important to verify the author of an article, or report, and to evaluate if they are qualified or have any severe bias. Also, it is recommendable to analyze the source of information, whether it comes from a highly reputable source with a strict editorial standard and a good record or if it comes from an anonymous message on social media.
The site FactCheck.org also recommends verifying if the content we are consuming is news or satire, given that the informational panorama in the digital world has an abundance of both and sometimes it is hard to discern between them. Also, we must be careful with the information that confirms our opinions on a topic. The psychologist Peter Wason found evidence that human beings tend to prefer information that confirms their beliefs rather than to evaluate them critically. For this reason, it is imperative to consult with a variety of sources with different ideological inclinations. The act of reading several sources is called lateral reading and is very important in order to obtain a vision of information that allows us to discern the seriousness of a source and helps us to transcend our preconceived ideological notions.
These tools work in any form of media. Yet, they are by no means an exhaustive list of all resources to stay well-informed, to do so, I recommend to further check the sources I mentioned. Nevertheless, it is a good framework to safely navigate the information panorama as the analytical citizens that our historical moment requires.