The Dangers of Misinformation

Avatar of Eric Soto

Misinformation has been a big problem ever since people could post anything online, and it has become a more apparent issue during the pandemic.

There is so much information pouring from our screens nowadays. The Internet has a ton of information, and by simply asking a question on Google, you get millions of answers in half a second.

The problem with information on the Internet is that most of the time, the information is not credible. Anyone can come up with answers on the Internet, whether they are right or wrong, and publish them. 

While I understand that it can be a good thing to have freedom of speech, people can also spread misinformation for personal gain, — like Cambridge Analytica did — such as spreading fake news about political rivals over the Internet. 

Misinformation can be turned into conspiracy theories very quickly and spread online exponentially. A simple Reddit post of Bill Gates was the catalyst of a pervasive conspiracy theory. The post mentioned the use of electronic vaccine records being more efficient than paper records, since paper records can be destroyed. This is how the widespread conspiracy theory that “Bill Gates is using the pandemic to implant microchips that keeps track of our data” originated. A Yahoo/YouGov poll launched in May 2020 showed that 19 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans said they believed this conspiracy theory.

The Bill Gates conspiracy was traced to a 2019 paper by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists, who created technology to record vaccination history in the skin. 

The thing about misinformation is that it always contains kernels of truth, making it easier for people to create conspiracy theories out of it.

Another example of misinformation is when a misinformative post on social media claiming that hydroxychloroquine was a cure for the vaccine went viral. The video received two million views and six hundred thousand shares before getting taken down, but not before Trump shared it on Twitter, forcing the World Health Organization (WHO) to step in and discredit the video.

Misinformation can threaten our democracy and society since it has the power to sway public opinion. In politics, being a misinformed citizen is worse than being an uninformed citizen because misinformed people can spread their beliefs to others. In turn, this can affect elections and policies. Even if the information is proven to be false, it still shapes people’s views towards a given topic. 

Cornell University posted a four-step guide to check if the information in articles is trustworthy. The first step is to look at the accuracy. This includes who wrote the information and if they can be contacted. The second step is to check the authority; if the author’s credentials are listed and if the publisher is separate from the webmaster. The third step is to identify the goals of the author and their opinions on the matter. The last step is currency, which is the relevance and timeliness of the information. If you do this, you should be able to identify misinformation and stay safe. 

In conclusion, it is important to make sure that your source is credible so that you don’t get manipulated by misinformation.