If an alien with the ability to see into people’s minds would visit Earth today, it could deservedly assume that “outrage” is the natural state of humankind. People around the world are outraged for an incredibly varied set of things – given the ongoing pandemic, most of these things today revolve around China, public health, the restrictions imposed by the authorities, and the lack of sports, with sporadic mentions of everyday topics ranging from the shenanigans of celebrities to the worst crimes against pizza.
Today, the news spreads faster than any virus, reaching millions of people in an instant through the amazing digital distribution channel we know as the Internet. Unfortunately, not all news is created equal: for every story that’s true and unbiased, there are ten others that are misinterpreted, misconstrued, misquoted, taken out of context, mistaken or simply fake. Today, more than ever, it is important to tell true news from fake ones – your health may depend on it. So let’s take a brief look at why people believe and share fake news, and how to tell the fake ones of the real ones.
The Dunning–Kruger effect, or why you should fact-check before sharing
When you hear about fake news, you will almost always see the term “Dunning–Kruger effect” mentioned at least a couple of times. This is a well-known term in the field of psychology and has to do with the people’s inability to objectively assess their competence. In short, it describes the people being wrong but not realizing how wrong they are – and feeling superior about their “knowledge”. This is the reason why conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, the anti-5G lynch mobs, and their likes are impossible to convince using scientific evidence or common sense.
This wouldn’t be such a big problem in itself – but the “media” today, unfortunately, includes many sources of utter nonsense presented as “news” going viral on social media, adding fuel to the fire of the people’s “woke” nature. And their followers will share every word they publish, presenting it as the ultimate truth.
A reputable news source that publishes a piece of mistaken information will almost always retract it and admit it was wrong. A “fake news” outlet will never do that – and will present any criticism as actions of “shills” paid by Big Whatever.
The result? Burning 5G towers, measles outbreaks, and people protesting in the streets against the lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of the virus. And I think we can all agree that this is harmful.
Where to fact-check?
Luckily, there are more than enough people around the world fighting the ever-growing tide of fake news. Scholars, scientists, journalists, and countless ONGs have stood up to it, providing people with tools to fact-check anything that appears in print and online. The Reporters’ Lab at Duke University has a database of fact-checking services that examine all parts and sides, track political promises, disclose fundings, and examine discrete claims. As of April, its database had 233 fact-checking organizations in 78 countries, ranging from the well-known Snopes.com to Facta.news, a recently launched Italian service.
Aside from these fact-checking services, you can also use one of the tools we all take for granted but don’t use it as we should: Google. An in-depth search on a topic will reveal a variety of sources about any topic, some more reputable than others. More often than not, a search will reveal the source (if any) of a study cited (if any) by a piece of fake news and give you a hint on whether you should believe what you just read or dismiss it as just another piece of nonsense.
Fake news is dangerous on a normal day – and it is even more dangerous during a time like this. Fact-checking today is more important than ever.