View social media skeptically during national crises

The Seattle Times

The crises confronting America have spawned their own information ecosystems as a nation scrambles online to learn the latest on street protests and coronavirus. But the defect of these light-speed communications poses its own peril.

Now more than any time in history, bad information — some intentionally planted — can reach millions of minds instantly.

Some information is truly invaluable. But anyone logging in to get a sense of real-world events must verify what they see. Appearances deceive, and image manipulation is a constant threat. A consumer must put in work to stay informed with accurate facts. This means looking for trustworthy reporting to verify social media claims. Valuable guidance on how to vet information is available via the Center for an Informed Public, which is a joint project by the University of Washington and Washington State University, and the Calling Bullshit website by two UW professors.

As the recent past shows. an onslaught of Russian-generated social media falsehoods inflamed the country leading up to the 2016 election. The internet’s power to disrupt the American psyche has only grown as more Americans log on and stay there. The vast reach of social media gives hoaxes a perfect — and barely regulated — vector.

In this era of national tumult, every social media consumer should seek confirmation from well-vetted information sources before acting on — or amplifying — the images or bulletins drifting across their screens. Verify, then trust.

The Seattle Times

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