5. Misinformation and investigation

5. Misinformation and investigation

In a wired and inextricably connected world, there is no escaping misinformation that is freely available online. This misinformation ranges from innocently shared posts which the person sharing it considers true and legitimate – to people who spend hours to digitally create posts that misinform, manipulate images to suit their stories, and eventually trap unsuspecting people to believing that what they share is the truth.

In a digitally-enabled era everyone with a smartphone, internet connectivity and a social media profile is a publisher. The person merrily republishes content s/he thinks is credible and authentic. Content is published in the form of text, images, videos or even memes. These could range from simple and harmless funny content, to innocently created mal-information, to maliciously designed content – created with a specific intent of spreading misinformation, that can often prove dangerous, and even lethal at times.

But as always, there is a balancing force to this – investigation. Like everyone armed with a smartphone is a content creator, everyone armed with a smartphone can also be an investigator – looking to verify and debunk misinformation online.

Investigating online misinformation is about common sense, and a keen sense of observation. The point is not to get carried away by the message of the post that is immediately evident. It would be a good idea to carefully observe the post and ask a few questions that would lend a perspective to the post. These questions are:

• Does it appear real and believable?
• Is the post quoting legitimate, verifiable sources? Can I verify from these sources?
• Have I read about such content elsewhere on the internet?
• Is the post uploader an authority on the subject?

There are tools and techniques that can be used to verify posts – text, images or video. But that calls for a certain level of expertise. In most cases, critical thinking should do the job for you. Critical Thinking is about critically, dispassionately and analyzing the contents of a post. Once you get a perspective about whether a post is credible or not, it is easier to navigate your way further down.