Misinformation has for long been a critical issue.(Image courtesy of Marco Verche / Creative Commons Flickr)
Portola High School

Opinion: The power of misinformation

In a Vox interview conducted by Sean Illing, Emil Thorson mentioned that among all types of misinformation, medical misinformation is the most dangerous for the public while the connection for politician misinformation “is much weaker.”

But what happens when political and medical misinformation is mixed such as COVID-19? And how can the public protect themselves from fake news?

This question has become increasingly difficult to answer when even health expert officials and politicians have contradicted one another and also themselves.

“There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergency program said at a media briefing in March, according to CNN.

We know that masks are beneficial and the CDC encourages that everyone, whether infected or not, wears them. However, the mistake of Dr. Mike Ryan reveals the power of misinformation and why we must protect ourselves. 

So how can we combat misinformation?

While some may propose stricter regulation on news industries, it’s important to note that more crackdowns can restrict free expression which is a violation of the 1st amendment. The other possible solution of utilizing advanced technology is one that indicates which articles have been heavily disputed on to counter misinformation, according to The Brookings Institution. This has also shown to be ineffective.

In fact, according to Brookings, the indicator made participants just “3.7 percentage points more likely to correctly judge headlines as false.” Additionally, we can’t blindly accept all news even if it may be trustworthy since every information we receive is, in essence, from humans, all of which have their own biases and intent.

Therefore to combat misinformation, it ultimately comes down to us. We, as viewers, need to be skeptical about the information we’re receiving and follow a variety of news sources that offer different perspectives. 

It can be an exhausting, tedious process to have to read through several articles about the same topic to ensure we’re getting the right details, however, it’s vital to take that extra precaution. If there’s a decline in trust in media, this complicates people holding leaders accountable and how our political system operates, according to Brookings.

Part of the distribution of fake news can be attributed to our current political administration. But we can’t make changes to our political system until we learn how to filter out fake news and get past the obstacles to achieve the democracy we desire. It’s an endless cycle if we continue to fall susceptible to misinformation but we can break out of it once we learn how to combat it. 

We can hope that journalists and politicians will stand by their moral judgments but nothing will truly change unless we make that change ourselves.