I’ve been working in journalism for more than 20 years. I’m passionate about reliable news and accurate information. I think a well-informed citizenry is vital to a functioning democracy.
Recent events led me to a sobering realization about the fragility of our American democracy and how misinformation and disinformation have become powerful destabilizing forces in our country.
For some people, terrorists attacking the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001 was a wake-up call to take action. After the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, I’m compelled to do more to combat the flow of false rumors.
While this is a problem that needs attention on many levels, there is a simple thing we can all do in our daily lives to help.
We can be savvier news consumers and not add to the spread of misinformation.
You can start by marking National News Literacy Week. The effort from the News Literacy Project and The E.W. Scripps Company was first launched last year.
Right now on NewsLiteracyWeek.org, you can take a brief quiz testing your ability to discern between inaccurate information and accurate, fact-based information that cites strong evidence.
There are two versions of the quiz, one aimed at disinformation geared toward liberals and one at disinformation geared toward conservatives. You can take both versions.
Let me emphasize: this is about getting to a healthier news experience for everyone. It’s not about changing anyone’s political views.
The quiz offers examples of items you might encounter on your social media feeds and asks you to decide if the post “presents credible, fact-based information that is well-sourced and safe to share” or “presents false, misleading or unverifiable information that is not safe to share.”
One example on the quiz showed an ordinary social media user sharing an image of a tweet purportedly from New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The tweet’s message was inflammatory and, you guessed it, 100% fake.
Another quiz post showed another ordinary social media user sharing an image of an incendiary tweet supposedly from President Trump. It was also 100% fake.
Here’s the tip from the News Literacy experts: “It’s easy for people with bad intentions to create images of fake tweets that look authentic. Always verify the authenticity of screenshotted tweets by locating the actual tweet on Twitter or in an archive.” You can even search deleted tweets from politicians at the website Politwoops.com.
The quiz also shows why out-of-context images and videos we encounter online should raise red flags.
For example, one quiz question showed a post from a verified radio talk show host sharing images of people taking items out of the White House during the final days of the Trump administration. The host claimed: “Trump’s people appear to be looting the White House…” Again, not true.
The real photos generated speculation on social media that items were being stolen. It appears the items were loaned to the White House by museums and going to be returned, according to fact-checking site Snopes.com.
The News Literacy experts advice: “Out-of-context photos can easily be misinterpreted, especially when our own biases influence what we think they depict.”
One way to check on posts like this is to do a reverse image search through Google or Pixsy.com.
Another quiz post was from the verified Twitter account of Donald Trump Jr. He shared an edited and misleading video showing Joseph R. Biden appearing to be alone on a stage.
The tip from News Literacy experts: “Out-of-context videos can seem persuasive, especially when they appear to confirm a belief we already have. But it’s always a good idea to seek the full context of videos being shared with supposedly controversial or astonishing content — especially when they come from highly partisan accounts or appear to have been manipulated, as this one does.”
If nothing else, the quiz offers an exercise that may make you think a little more about what you see, hear and read, where you seek out information and, most importantly, what you pass along to others.
“Remember that while there is a lot of credible information on social media, it can be easy to fall prey to falsehoods as you scroll — especially those that resonate with your values and beliefs,” reads a message that appears after the quiz on NewsLiteracyWeek.org. “We all need to stay vigilant and help stop the spread of falsehoods.”
Hopefully, by stopping the spread of misinformation, we can achieve a healthier news experience for ourselves and a healthier democracy for us all.
Jeannette Andruss is a former TV News producer and currently works as a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @NetteAndruss.