How do you learn to distinguish truth from fiction? Educating about factchecking

If you have ever wondered about the validity of a news story, then congratulations! You are on your way to developing critical thinking skills, which can help protect you from scammers.

It is unfortunate that many people do not question the news they come across. Instead, they tend to accept news that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and biases. This conclusion is based on a study that observed how college students read news articles and selected only those that supported their views (J. Hsu, 2009).

In simple words, if you believe in the negative influence of the Internet or have had repeated encounters with scammers on the web, then you may have misinterpreted the previous information. But if you believe it’s all hype and intimidation, or you are not satisfied with foreign sources, you may have missed some important information.

Regardless of your views, the statistics of encounters with fake news are quite high. According to research, Facebook users encountered misinformation an average of 70 million times per month in 2018. This is down from a peak of 200 million fake news stories per month in 2016, but it’s still a significant number. On Twitter, people share false content between 4 and 6 million times a month, and that number hasn’t dropped since 2016. (H. Allcott, M. Gentzkow, Ch. Yu, 2018)

False information has serious consequences. People lose funds, close people, and like-minded people because of it. Some even lose the ground under their feet.

Here is an example of the impact of misinformation: according to a survey, 20% of U.S. citizens surveyed said they believed that covida vaccines contain a microchip. One-fifth of respondents (and there were 1,500 adults!) subscribe to the theory, which is rooted in the conspiracy theory that Bill Gates wants to spy on everyone. The poll also showed that only 46% of Americans were willing to say that the microchip story was complete nonsense. Even though there is not yet a way in the world by which a microchip can be placed in a vaccine [Economist / YouGov, 2021]. It seems that people who have succumbed to misinformation are only dreaming of peace of mind.

Can one person avoid falling for fake news with awareness and facts?

The effectiveness of factchecking has been proven by a study conducted in Argentina, South Africa and the United Kingdom on the effect of fact-checking on changing attitudes toward misinformation. A total of 28 experiments were conducted and took place at the same time in each country. In each experiment, participants were randomly assigned to groups: misinformation, misinformation followed by fact-checking, and control. All participants then answered outcome questions about their belief in the false statement.

The fact-checking incentives consisted of fact-checks conducted by official organizations, while the misinformation incentives consisted of brief summaries of the false claims that led to the respective fact-checks. This allowed us to assess the effects of misinformation on belief accuracy compared to the control group and the effects of correction-the effect of corrections on belief accuracy compared to misinformation.

Subjects were re-contacted approximately two weeks after the first survey. In the second wave, subjects were again asked questions about the results without reminding them of the previous stimuli or signaling the truthfulness of each statement.

The result was that fact checking led to a significant increase in factual accuracy, such that, on average, fact checking increased factual accuracy by 0.59 points on a 5-point scale. The observed increases in accuracy were long-lasting, with most of them found more than two weeks after the initial exposure to fact-checking.

Despite concerns that fact-checking might “have unpleasant consequences” and reinforce false beliefs, no instances of this behavior were found. Instead, in all countries studied, fact-checking reduced belief in misinformation [E. Porter, Th. J. Wood, 2021].

There is only one conclusion: believing in fiction can be dangerous, and factchecking should be practiced to avoid it.
How can we learn to distinguish truth from fiction?

Everyone needs to know how to fact-check, because, in addition to affecting your opinion, emotional and financial state, misinformation can make you make bad decisions. And if you have a hand (or, more accurately, a finger) in spreading fakes, it can affect your credibility among colleagues and friends. And it is precisely to undermine trust and foment chaos that they are created.

The best way to counter false information

The best way is to do your own research, consisting of evaluating sources of information and fact-checking with various tools.

Algorithm of actions for a person who wants to be sure of incoming information

In today’s digital age, it is important to be able to identify accurate information from misinformation. Here are some steps you can take to check if the information you are reading is reliable:

  1. Look for signs of bias and emotion in the story. If the information seems to be one-sided or evokes strong emotions, it could be misinformation.
  2. Check for spelling and grammar errors. Reliable sources will have editors who ensure that the information is accurate and free of errors.
  3. Identify the source of the information and check if it is reliable. If the source is a social media account, look at the previous posts and the number of followers to determine its credibility.
  4. Verify the information by checking multiple sources. If the information is consistent across multiple sources, it is more likely to be true.
  5. Use search engines to verify the information from physical documents or images.
  6. Ask yourself what information is missing and try to fill in the gaps by gathering more information.

Developing the habit of checking everything before sharing it is an essential skill in today’s “post-truth” era. It is important to avoid cognitive distortion and to interpret information objectively.

Further, the first necessary questions will arise for you automatically, and if there is no answer to them, you will be able to quickly check the information for truthfulness, because you will get the skill of quick work with the search engine and the results of the output.

List of sources

For your convenience, we can offer you a list of sources that you should use first:

  • government reports;
  • state, federal and municipal open data portals;
  • court documents;
  • original scholarly research (e.g., in Google Scholar or open libraries);
  • government media.

You can also contact a reputable expert or a representative of the industry to which the information relates for clarification.

But you can’t blindly trust websites; they are also easily faked, and some of them only seem authoritative. To avoid being fooled, use these criteria to evaluate a website:

  • Purpose: look in the “About Us” section, check to see if the website’s purpose is labeled there, and compare whether the publications on the site are consistent with the stated purpose.
  • Credentials: check the contact information, developer, owner and credentials, author qualifications
  • Address: you can look at the URL of the domain to determine its affiliation (e.g., government organizations go to the domain “gov”).
  • Timeliness: a website should provide information about when content was written and published and whether it has been updated. Links to information sources should be current and working.
  • Accuracy: the website’s factual statements should be verifiable. Statements of fact must remain true when you verify them against independent sources [Dalhousie University, 2020].

And even then, when the information has been verified by you and accepted, you are advised to cite sources and authorship. This will remove questions from further recipients of the information and give you a reason to disseminate it with confidence.

What other advice do experts give on dealing with fiction?

Specialists have long and painstakingly studied misinformation and human reactions to false information. For example, how evolution has affected human perception:

The human brain is a very energy-saving organ, and the truth can make a person act, which is very disadvantageous to the brain. Therefore, a person is readily deceived if the lie helps to do nothing and maintain the favored status quo. Obvious truth also does not lead to any action, because it is normal and does not cause any emotions.

It is another matter if the truth is unacceptable – then it evokes deeply negative emotions. The problem is not that a person receives false information, but that people’s brains are used to being deceived. If you stop avoiding negative emotions and train your brain to go to the trouble of regularly doing what you don’t want to do, it will become much harder to deceive you [A. Weiner, 2019].

In order not to get used to fictions and not to live in their environment, you can call to the fight the weapons of “enemies” – digital solutions. For example, you can install browser extensions:

What conclusions can we draw?

Clearly, we need to recognize that false information will always be around us, but we can make a choice in favor of the truth, even though it will not always be accepted by our evolved brains. Also, an important conclusion is that a person should not give in to the emotions that overwhelm them after encountering a news story.

The brighter a person’s psycho-emotional background, the lower their critical thinking and the easier it is to manipulate them, and vice versa. And critical thinking can serve as a stopper for emotions. On the other hand, fiction can be determined at a high level of empathy and analysis in communication with a person, so for personal meetings it is better to stock up on profiling skills.

And the main conclusion is that you need to start working on yourself right now.So go ahead! And be careful.

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