By Menghan Xiao
Why should we care about misinformation and how should we tackle it? An expert from Northwestern University School of Communication explains.
WHEN WE ARE TALKING ABOUT MISINFORMATION. WHAT EXACTLY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
Donald Trump (clip): Fake, phony, fake.
FROM THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION —
Donald Trump (clip): We were winning everything,
AND COVID-19 PANDEMIC —
DAVID ZUBLICK (clip): A weaponized biological attack,
TO TODAY’S RUSSIA AND UKRAINE CRISIS —
Ukraine protester: To be honest with you, Russia is a complete joke.
MISINFORMATION HAS HUGE IMPACTS ON THE PUBLIC MORE THAN YOU COULD IMAGINE.
TO BETTER UNDERSTAND IT, I INTERVIEWED NATHAN WALTER, A PROFESSOR AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION. HIS RECENT RESEARCH HAS BEEN FOCUSED ON THE CORRECTION OF MISINFORMATION.
WALTER: We are drowned in what we shouldn’t see and what we shouldn’t know.
A STUDY BY MIT FINDS THAT ON AVERAGE, FAKE NEWS SPREAD SIX TIMES QUICKER THAN TRUTH.
XIAO: Should we be afraid?
WALTER: I don’t know if we need to be afraid of misinformation, but we should definitely realize that this is something that is here to stay, and people should know how to better identify it.
BEFORE SHARING A POST,
WALTER: We should ask ourselves, what is the evidence in this story? Who are the sources? Is there anything here that I’m too eager to agree with?
XIAO: How about tech companies? Is there anything they should do?
WALTER: Yes, there are a variety of things that they should do. But I don’t know if they will do it.
MULTIPLE STUDIES FIND TECH GIANTS ARE PAYING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO SUPPORT CLICKBAIT ACTORS.
WALTER: So I’m suspicious of their ability or their self-discipline, just to say, “We’re going to remove all that content that in part makes us so successful and so rich.”
XIAO: I know under the Ukrainian-Russia crisis, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter are taking actions to remove false content.
WALTER: That type of post-hoc attempts to correct disinformation are not enough. It’s almost like playing a game of Whac-a-Mole, where the mole jumps out and you try to hit it, but then there’s another mole. There should be a way to address misinformation before it is spread.
THIS CAN BE ACHIEVED BY NEW TECHNOLOGY, SUCH AS BETTER ALGORITHM OR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE SYSTEM. BUT MANY OF THESE SOLUTIONS REMAIN OUT OF REACH, AT LEAST FOR THE MOMENT. ONE THING PUBLIC CAN DO RIGHT NOW —
WALTER: From a very early age, we need to make sure that children realize not everything that they encounter is a fact, and most importantly, also realize that they can be suspicious, they can be critical and skeptical, but at some point when they get enough good evidence, they should trust the information.
Menghan Xiao is a Video and Broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter @Menghan_Xiao_