How To Spot Misinformation
Last Updated on July 27, 2021
The Trust Challenge
With the overwhelming amount of information out there, it’s easy to get lost and not know what to trust. The internet has provided us an amazing medium for connecting and communicating across the world! But this also means that literally anyone can write and share anything. So how do we know what to trust?
To begin with, I highly recommend you take a look at these: “Immunizing the public against misinformation,” an insightful article from the (WHO | World Health Organization), as well as checking out NewseumEd (a Center for First Amendment Media Literacy). They provide a really good touchpoint for launching yourself into information absorption mode, while navigating the complexities of online misinformation. Now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling, I’d also like to share a few key points that have helped me on my own learning journey.
(1) Build a base of understanding
It’s been a rough ride (these last few years especially), but I’d like to think of it as a positive experience that has definitely helped my critical thinking and my subsequent understanding of the world. So first things first, it’s vital to build up a strong foundational knowledge around a certain topic(s). You can always expand it as you go, but it’ll clearly help in the long run. So kick it off however you can!
Try watching a few introductory (and exploratory) videos or documentary films on your selected topic. If you’re passionate about sustainability and the struggle to combat climate change, here are a few good starters.👇 These will help you become more familiar with climate-related issues. As an added bonus, after you’ve watched them, they’ll also help you identify potential misinformation around the topic.
Short videos Playlist on YouTube
- Vox videos on Climate Change
- AsapSCIENCE – What’s Happening to our Planet?
- NowThis Earth
- TED – 5 Questions about Climate Change
- TED-ed How to avoid a climate disaster
See also our Top 10 Climate Change Documentaries post for more.
(2) Stick to well known sources (initially)
An easy start is to stick to information that comes from well known sources. At least until you feel more comfortable and familiar with the climate and environmental issues.
Some Well-Known Sources To Follow
(in alphabetical order):
- AP (The Associated Press) (Twitter, Facebook)
- BBC (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- The Guardian (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- The New York Times (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- NPR (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Reuters (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Vox (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- BBC News Climate Change (YouTube)
See also our How To Stay Informed post for more.
Quality vs Sensational News
One thing to be careful about is to NOT confuse quality journalism with sensationalist journalism (a.k.a. tabloid). They can be hard to differentiate sometimes as the name of the newspaper might sound very similar to a reputable newspaper. Like for example the New York Post (a tabloid newspaper) vs The New York Times (a serious newspaper, winner of 132 Pulitzer Prizes).
News vs Opinion
Another thing to pay attention even within a serious newspaper is whether its News or Opinion. Look at the heading, as if something is an opinion it will say so. News should provide objective information on current events. While opinion pieces represent the authors subjective thoughts.
Checkout Web Evaluation & News Sources: Reputable News Sources by the University of California Merced Library.
Primary sources are the original sources of information. Where do you think news reporters get their information from? If it’s about scientific data, global warming, and/or climate solutions, then they probably interviewed climate scientists or other experts. Don’t just rely on what “he said she said.” Rather, go straight to the primary sources if/when you can. Those are the climate scientists, experts, journalists and leaders of the Climate Movement.
Try following primary sources directly on social media:
- Al Gore (Twitter, Instagram)
- Dr. Ayana E. Johnson (Twitter, Instagram)
- Bill McKibben (Twitter)
- Bill Weihl (Twitter)
- Emily Atkin (Twitter, Instagram)
- James Hansen (Twitter, Facebook)
- Dr. Jonathan Foley (Twitter)
- Kate Marvel (Twitter)
- Katharine Hayhoe (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Kimberly Nicholas (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Dr. Leah Stokes (Twitter)
- Michael E. Mann (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Naomi Klein (Twitter)
- 350.org (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Carbon Brief (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn)
- Clean Air Task Force (Twitter)
- Climate Reality Project (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Fridays For Future (Twitter)
- Friends of the Earth (FoE) (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Project Drawdown (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- Sunrise Movement (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
- UNDP Climate (Twitter)
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO) (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
I for example rely heavily on the trusted sources to verify any information I find online or in social media. If the main reliable sources have not picked it up yet, question why is this information only available in a specific post? Have they sourced where they got their data? Who said it? Is the individual or groups who said it known as trustworthy?
Once you feel like you’re relatively up-to-date and you’re keeping yourself informed, then go ahead and the explore less-known sources (to you) that could have a treasure of information.
(3) Question everything. Apply your critical thinking skills
It’s so, so important to use your critical thinking skills. Try questioning the source, or potential motivation of the post. What is the purpose of this information. As a handy guide, try out the the ESCAPE acronym (formulated by NewseumEd) that covers 6 main concepts:
- E – Evidence: Do the facts hold up?
- S – Source: Who made this? And can I trust them?
- C – Context: What’s the big picture?
- A – Audience: Who is the intended audience?
- P – Purpose: Why was this made?
- E – Execution: How is this information presented?
I would also add to the list above the question of WHEN. The topic of sustainability evolves quite fast, especially in the last decade. Something that was true 5 years ago, might not be the case. New laws are passed, new solutions and technology are developed, new discoveries are made. Make sure the information is the latest!
As you can see, it’s a lot to have in mind! It’s unfortunate, but we really do have to protect ourselves from misinformation and retain only genuinely accurate news. It can be pretty tough at first. Especially when you’re just starting out, and you maybe didn’t have anyone to show you the ropes on how to get through this potentially overwhelming world of information.
Over time however, it will get easier. My hope is that the best practices I’ve shared will help you get through it. So remember, (1) Get yourself familiar by building a base of understanding, (2) Follow those well-known sources, and (3) Question everything! Good luck! 😉
(Some links also embedded in the post)
- Immunizing the public against misinformation (WHO, Aug 2020)
- E.S.C.A.P.E. Junk News – Lesson Plan (NewseumEd)
- Is This Story Share-Worthy? – Lesson Plan (NewseumEd)
- UN – How to check information online is reliable (WikiHow Vimeo)
- Web Evaluation & News Sources: Reputable News Sources (University of California)
- 7 ways to avoid becoming a misinformation superspreader (The Conversation)
- Reuters list of the world’s top 1000 climate scientists (Reuters)
- Top Climate Experts to follow on Twitter (Climate Reality Project)