Misinformation or Truth: My Cheat Sheet.
As mentioned in several previous posts, I think trying to control all of the information a person is/isn’t exposed to is an expensive and losing battle. Between real life and the digital landscape, the opportunities for exposure are endless. No matter what you do, people will one day find themselves in a situation where they have to figure out the veracity of information without the help of digital disclaimers, well-meaning fact checkers, and misinformation czars. It could happen behind a laptop, in a locker room, a bar, a classroom, a cruise ship, a gym, a bedroom, on a plane, a roadtrip, or even in a spy hot air balloon (hey, maybe!). The situations are endless. That’s when critical thinking skills or perhaps this 6-Things-To-Consider Cheat Sheet will come in handy. It’s a weird cheat sheet, because most cheat sheets have answers, but this one has a bunch of questions.
Misinformation or Truth: 6-Things-To-Consider Cheat Sheet:
Pause and Ask Yourself these Questions:
- The Author or The Speaker: Who is the author or the speaker? Are they an expert on the topic? What are their motives for writing or saying a particular piece of information? Does the author or speaker strike you as fair? Or do they strike you as someone who is consistently biased and more concerned about fueling faithful followers or fueling a particular narrative? Do you have a good reason to trust the author’s expertise and intentions?
- Funding: Does the author or speaker have any financial incentives tied to the information? Are they selling anything? Do they make money by sharing the information?
- Who Else: Do other people agree with what the author or speaker is saying? Who are they ? Do you trust them? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Understanding: If you don’t understand all or portions of the informaiton, before you share it, is there an expert you trust who you can ask? For example, say the information is about an environmental exposure that is potentially harmful to dogs. Is there a veterinarian or dog researcher who you could talk to about it? Is there a trusted veterinary site you can visit and research the topic?
- Statistics: If the information involves statistics, do you understand what they mean? Statistics can be tricky, particularly if you haven’t taken a lot of classes in statistics. Try to ask for clarification from a “stats person” or at least a “nerdy” friend. (Nerdy is used here in a cool way. I love nerds.)
- Motivation: After reading or listening to the information, if you feel the urge to share it, why? Do you believe it to be true? Are you looking for more information? Do you find it interesting? Are you concerned about the topic covered? Or, perhaps it supports something you already believe, and you want to post it to show you’re right? (It’s okay, we’ve all been there.) Is it for popularity? Do you think the post has the potential to bring more followers to your page or attention from people you admire?
If you go through the six steps and decide to share the information, consider how you will present it to your audience. For example, if you don’t entirely understand it or remain uncertain about it, lead with that. Write or say in an opening sentence, “I don’t know if this information is accurate, but I found it interesting and wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts on it.” Doing that is a responsible move and let’s your audience know that you aren’t sharing the information as Gospel, you aren’t purposefully spreading untruths, and you still have questions about it.
Misinformation or Truth, More on Your Motivation and More Questions:
Critical to understanding your motivation is becoming aware of your internal biases. Many people are unaware of their internal biases or choose to ignore that they have them, even though we all have them. In a previous blog I wrote about truth-seeking, I revealed my process for learning my internal biases, which may or may not change over time. It’s asking myself questions and observing my reactions to things and my feelings about things. Essentially, it’s becoming more aware of yourself through questions and observations. It’s an important process to go through so that your internal biases don’t hijack the truth from you.
The opposite of becoming aware of your internal biases and staying committed to the truth is motivational reasoning. That’s when someone has a predetermined goal or belief and any information will be interpreted so as to support the predetermined goal. Motivational reasoning is common, especially on social media where folks feel pressure to please a tribe or their “affinity group.” ( If you don’t please your tribe, your follower count and likes go down and you may collect a bunch of nasty comments.) If you want the truth, however, you have to remember that motivational reasoning is the opposite of truth-seeking. In other words, if your goal is to always please your affinity group, you are definitely not seeking the truth.
I hope this cheat sheet helps someone out there. I think we will be fine as long as we remember to pause and ask ourselves a few questions about new information we are presented with. The key is in the pause….the pause…the pause.
Thanks for reading Misinformation or Truth and taking my cheat sheet into consideration. Feel free to let me know your thoughts, too. 🙂
Also check out this podcast I did with a Misinformation Scientist!
And don’t forget to check out my Causes or Cures Podcast! I’ve had some amazing guests in the last few months and a great group of people scheduled. If you want to keep track of published episodes, the best way to do that is subscribe to my newsletter.