Based on the news cycles and the general impressions of the American public, there is no denying it: we are living in interesting times, and we are living in turbulent times. Yet while in the past Florida residents could at least partially rely on a press that reported only the facts after careful verification, the advent of the digital age and social media (among other developments) has changed things. News sources have more explicit agendas. Verification is harder to come by.
And as we get closer to primary and general election season in Florida, and as problems such as foreign interference and rapidly spreading illnesses reach the state, it’s all the more important to make sure that we’re tackling problems correctly and listening to what politicians have to say with a careful but critical ear. Yet doing this can be tricky, so in this article we’re going to go over and remind you of some ways to keep ahead of the confusion.
Do Not Accept Misinformation
Naturally this may seem like an important, if obvious, point to make, but there is something to be said about avoiding one’s own blind spots and making sure that you are getting your information from worthy sources. It’s easy to encase oneself in an echo chamber online where none of your beliefs, preconceptions, or ideas will be challenged. While this can be comforting, it won’t lead you to everything you need to know, nor will it ever lead you into a position where you can change your mind in a way that lets you live your life in proper accordance with your values.
While going on a crusade against everything wrong you see online is probably a bad idea, critique the sources and people you like in addition to those you don’t. Consider subscribing to a trustworthy local newspaper instead of or in addition to your current collection of media. Minimize the exposure of in your life to harmful or misleading material, even if it’s shared by friends. You wouldn’t let toxins into your home, so why would you act differently to anything on your screens?
Additionally, remember that if you aren’t paying for something, then you are the product. Social media platforms will allow many things to run as ads, and those ads will not only lie to you, but try to mask themselves as native content to
Critical Thought Goes a Long Way
The skills for critical thinking were hopefully taught to you in school, even if in roundabout ways. When you see an article, source, or piece of information, you can avoid a great deal of misinformation and potential danger or embarrassment by effectively interrogating what you’re looking at. How do you do that? While it may vary greatly, we recommend at least asking the following questions of any site, post, or comment you come across:
- Is there an agenda at work here?
- Who is sponsoring (or the owner of) the article or website, and who is paying for the studies, surveys, or similar studies? Is this relevant to their interests, and would they benefit from public opinion shifting one way or the other? Could the facts used be cherrypicked?
- Does the piece answer questions that I have regarding the details of the story? Are there details missing that should at least be mentioned? Conversely, is the piece so long that there’s a fundamental truth about the situation that should be more clearly emphasized?
- What is the purpose of this piece? What response is it trying to get out of me, if any? If it’s a news report, why did the writers and editors think this was worth my attention?
These are only a few questions that you can use, and others might be more relevant depending on what you’re looking at. And while you realistically can’t investigate everything you come across, you can start to notice patterns, especially among publications and writers.
Double Check Everything, and Consider the Site in Question
A bit of this overlaps with questions and points brought up in the previous sections, but while you might wish to take the content and only the content in question, it can be very helpful to consider the context of the piece. What site is it being posted on? What types of articles or posts is it next to?
Similarly, many of those acting in bad faith will trust you won’t examine the sources they use, which means when you have the opportunity, you absolutely should. While there are better guides to examining sources you should read and consult as needed, ultimately impartiality and careful collection are vital. A quick search to see if there are (valid) conflicting or contradictory facts, and a comparison of those can help set the record straight. Never get all your information from just one source.
Don’t Fall for Emotional Bait
Headlines, tags, rants by Facebook friends, and more can try to force you to take the facts of a situation in a certain light. Don’t let the spin send you in the wrong direction, and similarly don’t let hyperbole send you in a panic. Most headlines, especially those online, are meant to spur a reaction out of you and to click on the article to keep you reading. This means they aren’t necessarily written in the most responsible way. On television, the same principles apply. How often does “breaking news” really matter anymore?
Very rarely is something truly the “worst” or “best”, for example. And in the cases where those words would be accurate, the situation described is probably very specific in nature.
Similarly, beware of opinion pieces, writers, and pages that are simply meant to get the most traction. To most networks, ratings and views are the metrics of success, and nothing else (outside of perhaps avoiding bad press or a lawsuit). Pundits, however convincing or charismatic they may be and whatever arguments they might use, are trying to get you to agree with them, and their beliefs might not be in your best interests.
Ensure People Around You Are Careful as Well
The people you spent the most time with, whether they are family, friends, or colleagues, are major sources of information, even if you don’t think of them that way. You don’t need to challenge everything they say or tell them they’re wrong about everything. In fact, that would only be counterproductive. Yet at the
In your own family, you can take more concrete measures. Where your children are concerned, you can teach them about the importance of not taking everything they read at face value. You can also make sure to potentially block any sites or shows that are extremist or clearly propagandic in nature so that you don’t have to worry so much about radicalization. This won’t be best in the long term, but teaching skills takes time, and passing on your values is important.
Encourage and Support Outlets that Are Doing Things Right
Effectively, the market dictates the resources that papers, stations, and journalists have to work with when working to determine the truth. Proper journalism isn’t cheap, while misinformation is the cost of hiring the cheapest person available to write something just believable enough. Readers like you need to reward good work instead of comforting work.
If you can afford it, we recommend you try and support journalists who are working on getting to the truth on issues that you care about and publications that are dedicated to providing a balanced and professional approach to providing you with insight and information. Even still you should be careful and be critical of what you see, but removing potential sources of bias is always beneficial.
It has never been more important to educate yourself about best practices online, not only about cybersecurity and working with people, but in what you consume online how to examine your own assumptions about the world and how you interact with it. You have every right to believe whatever you wish, but a careful examination of your habits will allow you to live a richer and more fulfilling public and private life. And with everything happening and coming to Florida, the benefits will serve you well.