Motives Behind Misinformation (you should probably read this before you read the Bacon)

Jiaming Lou, Editor-in-Chief

Misinformation is undeniably out there, and pretty much everywhere. Not to mention, this edition of the Bacon will feature only misinformed articles. But before you start distrusting us (hey, you better believe we’re still your most reliable source for school news, and lots of arts and opinion, well, opinions), let me go into some of the motives behind misinformation. You may even call it pros and cons.

To begin with, there aren’t a lot of pros. Just so we’re clear, “misinformation” is a broad category that captures any misleading, incorrect, or false information (“Detecting Misinformation”). This labeling applies to information that has been exaggerated or altered for the purpose of entertainment too. The Onion is an American media company well known for its satirical news articles.  From “Study Reveals: Babies are Stupid” to “HR Director Reminds Employees That Any Crying Done At Office Must Be Work-Related,” these titles, featuring content that is obviously not true, are used to catch readers off guard; the rest of the article uses that same humor to make a point rather than making a point in a more serious tone. While there’s always the option of traditional news reporting, satire pokes fun at the problem in an attempt to correct some part of it in an appealing way.

That is, if the satire is understood. Those who do not get the message or who mistake the humorously-angled headlines for truth will walk away with an incorrect understanding of the news. This is when misinformation can get dangerous. For example, many Twitter posts feature pictures or videos to go with the tweeter’s message. However, the media are not always original, and often are taken from other sources. The media used in a different context than intended originally is what makes the post misinformation. If a Twitter user finds the post funny, he or she might retweet it, contributing to the spread of misinformation. The average person spends at least 147 minutes per day on social media (Dixon). That’s a lot of time to get exposed to misinformation. Nevermind the fact that misinformation is not so easily noticeable at the first glance.

The spread of misinformation has real-world consequences. Take a real-life scenario: “If you want to buy stock in a company, you want to read accurate articles about that company so you can invest wisely.  If you are planning on voting in an election, you want to read as much good information on a candidate so you can vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs” (“Misinformation and Disinformation: Why Misinformation & Disinformation Matters”). In other words, misinformation hurts the original poster’s credibility and distorts current issues, both of which have the potential to mislead readers. 

Identifying misinformation becomes easier with practice. Three tips to help you out:

  1. Pay attention to tone: a good indicator of misinformation is the tone. If the language leans very far to either left or right politically or if it uses a lot of absolute statements, it may be a good indicator of misinformation. 
  2. See if you can find the original source of media: if you suspect misinformation, see if the source uses any images. You can do a reverse Google Image search to find all the sites where the image shows up.
  3. Do some lateral reading: google just the name of the source you are reading. Click on the Wikipedia result that shows up; look at what multiple other sources say about this source to determine if it’s credible.

After you’ve found misinformation, speak up about it! There are several different steps you can take to address misinformation for what it is: report the post, contact the owner, or share the post–but only under the circumstance that you clearly label it as misinformation! If you find the original media the misinformed post was taken from, share that too; it helps others clearly see the intended meaning of the media and how it was misused. 

It may not be easy at first to identify misinformation. However, learning to recognize and correct misinformation is crucial to being a global citizen.

And remember, while the rest of the Bacon articles you’ll read will be entirely false, this is the one article you can–and you should–trust.