Misinformation is common in the wake of huge storms, and because of social media, unconfirmed reports often get represented as factual too quickly,
Contrary to claims online, a clip showing an elephant seal in a street was not filmed in Florida as Hurricane Ian made landfall. It was recorded in 2020 in the Chilean seaport town of Puerto Cisnes https://t.co/j6ueY7XvLF
— Reuters Fact Check (@ReutersFacts) September 30, 2022
The problem, of course, is that not all the claims are false, and flooding social media with false claims drowns out the real news. The Associated Press determined that a video of a shark swimming in suburban floodwaters was indeed shot in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
Not just another fish story: A video of a shark or other large fish thrashing around an inundated Fort Myers backyard amid Hurricane Ian is real, the AP has found. https://t.co/RTpnlT5Okp
— AP Fact Check (@APFactCheck) September 29, 2022
Classrooms fight misinformation
Before we go any further in the internet age, we must understand the difference between misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is incorrect information spread innocently: The person creating it or sharing it believes it to be true. Disinformation is deliberately false information.
Research last year from the Stanford History Education Group found that in a diverse sample of 3,446 high school students from 14 states, most students struggled to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy information online.
Only about 3 percent of students realized, for example, that the fossil fuel industry ran a website purporting to deliver legitimate information about climate change. Most tended to use ineffective methods for deciding whether to trust an internet source: They put a great deal of trust in .org web addresses, for example, and took “About Us” pages at face value. Less than 10 percent cross-checked a source’s credentials with a simple web search.
And when these students spread disinformation to create misinformation, the stories go viral, and nobody can check the primary sources anymore. But no one is immune to spreading disinformation. Despite our best efforts, I’m sure I’ve fallen for things a few times on these pages. The creators of disinformation are simply growing increasingly savvy; video and image manipulation technology has improved so much.
Since Voxitatis also gets most of its news via the internet, which means sometimes going to sites other than NBC News or The New York Times, we often use a technique called “lateral reading.” This means we leave a source and check for background information about the source on other sites or in peer-reviewed journals. The idea of lateral reading is easily taught but hardly ever known by students a priori.
In addition to checking the validity of the source, though, students (and adults) must also be aware of wild claims or the possibility that a “link” that is claimed between two events or trends may involve a spurious correlation. This is not easy to get across, as it involves much higher critical thinking than simply checking the validity or motivation of source material.