10 Ways to Navigate Our Growing Infodemic

infodemic

With all the glut of information and voices, how do you separate fact from fiction?

We all know that we’ve been living through a pandemic. What is not widely realized is how we are also living through an infodemic.

Epidemiology is a branch of medical science that studies the ways diseases are transmitted and, as a result, can be controlled in a population. Infodemiology is a social science that studies the ways information is transmitted and, as a result, might need to be controlled.

In other words, an infodemic is similar to a pandemic.

When reading that, you might instantly feel an adverse reaction—meaning that you don’t feel information, like a virus, needs to be controlled, filtered or vetted.  

And I share that visceral feeling.

Yet here is the challenge posed on the World Health Organization’s website:

As humans, we are a curious and innovative species. We want to understand the world around us and stay up to date on the challenges we face and how to overcome them. One of the ways we do this is by seeking out and sharing information – lots of it. Even scientists around the world are working hard to keep up with the thousands of studies that have come out since COVID-19 appeared.

“But it is not only scientific studies. There are also official communications from governments and health agencies around the world. Then there are news articles and opinion pieces, and messages from vloggers, bloggers, podcasters and social media influencers. You may also see information shared by friends and family on social media or messaging apps.

“All of this is called the infodemic: a flood of information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Infodemiology is the study of that information and how to manage it.”

And it isn’t just information related to the pandemic. It’s information about gun violence, racism, survivors and sexual abuse … it’s information about everything in current cultural discourse. The result of an absence of information management has led to the worst polarizations and politicizations, divides and discord, in recent history.

So apart from the widely ridiculed and quickly shelved “Disinformation Governance Board,” what can be done on an individual level to protect against the infectious nature of the infodemic? In other words, if we don’t want it managed for us, how can it be managed by us?

Here are the seven of the most common suggestions:

1. Assess the source. Always begin with who shared the information with you and where they got it from. Look for fake social media accounts, how long profiles have been active, number of followers and the most recent posts. For websites, check the “About Us” and “Contact Us” pages for background information. Verify the authenticity of images and videos (e.g., by using reverse image search tools provided by Google).

2. Go beyond headlines. Don’t forget that many (if not most) headlines are designed as “click bait.” Read more than the headline, which can be designed to alarm or anger. You may find out—and often will—that the gist of the story not only fails to support the headline but negates it. Also, search more widely than social media for information. Look at print sources (newspapers, magazines) and digital sources (online news sites). The more you diversify your sources, the more you get a better sense of what is trustworthy.

3. Identify the author. This is simple: search the author’s name online to see if they are credible—or even real.

4. Check the date. Why is this important? Because news is always developing. So, ask yourself: “Is this a recent story? Is it up to date and relevant to current events? Has a headline, image or statistic been used out of context?” 

5. Examine the supporting evidence. A truly credible story will back up their claims with facts. Look for quotes from experts or links to statistics and studies. Then verify that those experts are reliable and that the links actually support the story.

6. Check your biases. Face it—we all have biases. A bias, by definition, is “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; prejudice; bent.” Whatever your biases are will affect how you interpret what’s happening in the world. So, ask yourself: “Why am I drawn to this particular headline or story? Why did I react to it so strongly? Did it challenge my assumptions or tell me what I wanted to hear?” And perhaps most important of all, “What did I learn about myself from my interpretation or reaction?”

7. Turn to fact checkers. There are trusted fact-checking organizations that go beyond Snopes, such as the International Fact-Checking Network. There are also global news outlets that focus on debunking misinformation, such as the Associated Press and Reuters.

And if you are a Christ-follower, here are three more suggestions:

8. Compare and contrast with Scripture. For the Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority and truth-source. Misinformation is not always a matter of facts and figures, but rather mindsets and values, convictions and behaviors. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, you can’t call a line crooked unless you know what a straight line is. The Bible gives us the straight line on all things related to our faith.

9. Listen to your spiritual leaders. Your pastor is not infallible, but they have been placed in a position of authority over you as the spiritual leader of your church. Listen to them and weigh carefully what they say. You don’t have to agree, but you should give their words significance.

10. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Anyone familiar with the story of Solomon in the Old Testament knows that God was very, very pleased that Solomon—when he could have asked for anything—asked for wisdom. It is a request God seems only too happy to grant. And in the midst of an infodemic …

sorely needed.

Read more from James Emery White »

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This article originally appeared on ChurchAndCulture.org and is reposted here by permission.

 

Sources

Moises Velasquez-Manoff, “The Anti-Vaccine Movement’s New Frontier,” The New York Times, May 25, 2022, read online.

“Let’s Flatten the Infodemic Curve,” World Health Organization, read online

“Disinformation Governance Board” from Wikipedia, read online.

“Bias,” Webster’s New World Dictionary.