BANGOR – Misinformation is a word that has been circulating a lot lately. But, what exactly is it, and how can we prevent it from spreading?
“Misinformation has become an absolute global problem because of the digital age,” said Jeffrey Hope, director of Husson University’s journalism program and a professor of journalism. “Anyone, anywhere can now create misinformation that affects a lot of people.”
Misinformation is inaccurate information that is communicated to others.
According to Hope, people often spread misinformation for political or financial gain.
“Misinformation is about power. It’s that simple. If you can control the information, you can control what people do, how they vote, where they go, it goes on and on and on.”
Often times, people spread misinformation without realizing it’s false.
“A lot of people who have their heart in the right place and are intending to share on social media things that they believe are accurate are sharing things that are inaccurate,” said Michael Socolow, the director of the McGillicuddy Humanities Center at the University of Maine and a professor of journalism and communications.
Socolow said misinformation spreads most frequently through social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.
“Somebody does a tweet or a Facebook post that’s designed to get an emotional reaction that makes you share it with your friends, that’s one strategy outrage sharing,” Socolow said. “There’s unintended amplification where you don’t realize, whether something’s accurate or not.”
Hope said to follow the ‘Caring Before Sharing’ model, which includes, name it, tame it, meaning stop, look away and think about what you’ve read, take responsibility, acknowledge this is something you may not know, verify the information and if you’re not sure, don’t share.
“Think of yourself as a gatekeeper. If there’s some information, you are actually in charge of sharing it or not sharing it,” Hope said. “Experts say, ‘how about if it’s misinformation, don’t share it.'”
Hope recommended verifying information using snopes.com, and Socolow said looking for mainstream journalistic links is key.
“The best way to stop the spread of misinformation is for each of us to think about how we can be part of the solution rather than the problem,” Socolow said.