From viral rumors to misleading memes, when misinformation is seemingly everywhere online, how do you know what’s safe to share? To find out, we headed to the University of Kentucky, where we put students and faculty to the test.
First, we spoke with Professor Gregory Hall. We showed him a series of three social media posts curated by the News Literacy Project. Each featured a dubious claim about American politicians or the COVID-19 vaccine. Professor Hall accurately identified which ones were safe to post and which ones he should scroll past.
“Being a teacher, we traffic in references, and confirming and authenticating things,” Hall said, when we asked him how he knew what was true and what was false. But you don’t have to be a professor to spot misinformation.
Freshman Kaira Bostic quickly debunked a click-bait Instagram post peddling a vaccine conspiracy theory. We asked her why the post, falsely claiming thousands of people were paralyzed after the COVID-19 vaccine, was harmful to share on social media.
“It's just people talking,” she said. “People talk all day long, and you don't have to take it as fact. Unless it comes directly from the CDC, I'm not going to take it as fact.”
Other faculty members agreed, like mathematics lecturer Brad Elliott. We showed him a post falsely claiming Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert gave a guided tour the day before the January 6th capitol riots.
“Unverifiable to me,” Elliott said, correctly deciding to skip sharing the post. “There’s nothing that says when the photo was taken, so that could have been any photo, not just the day before the insurrection.”
The News Literacy Project compares media literacy to washing your hands. Take 20 seconds to practice good information hygiene before you share: investigate the source, do a quick Google search, and don’t let your emotions take over. If you’ve completed these steps, and you’re still not sure if the post is true, don’t share it.
National News Literacy Week is January 24-28. Take the quiz for yourself here.
For more tips on spotting misinformation, click here.