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The Digital Spread of Misinformation

Online platforms, especially social networking sites, often contain misinformation. When encountering a piece of misinformation, people must take specific actions to combat false ideas that are spread in hopes of redirecting the conversation to a debate surrounding trustworthy information. 

Professional journalism has a strong culture of "objectivity," also referred to as "fairness and balance," or the responsibility to cover an issue so that all sides are presented accurately and justly. In other words, information must be presented in an unbiased manner for the sake of impartiality. Critically analyzing media content by considering its particular presentation, underlying political or social messages, and media ownership or regulation is just the beginning. 

Otherwise known as media literacy, these steps can help fight against the information we see in mass communication. Media, presented through newspapers, radio, television, the internet, etc., is unfortunate in promoting such biased stereotypes and misconstructing certain behaviors. Entertainment media is an accessible, easy, and primary source of interest. It is easy to be tricked by the spread of lies when subconsciously consuming information while sitting on a couch. Considering the information presented before an individual, people should weigh multiple factors when they find themselves in this situation. For example, people should ask themselves, is the news story coming from a media organization known for its political views on the left or the right? If so, is the source a well-known media company or an underground blogger?

Furthermore, word choice is crucial when understanding how it affects media consumption and mass perception. How can alternative words possibly change the overall impression of what was written? In news stories, who is interviewed? Who is treated as an expert, and what organizations do they work for? How are they framed within the stories?

Additionally, stereotyping or simplistic or inaccurate beliefs about typical characteristics of a group of people is another harmful tactic used in the media to spread misinformation. Personal perception, attitude, behaviors, attention, and listening skills are all factors that affect how we absorb information. People should refrain from instantly believing reports from a news site that uses humor or sarcasm, specifically when discussing political facts or stories. When talking about serious political issues, it must come from an unbiased newscaster that professionally delivers the news. Furthermore, guest appearances on the show must appeal to their audience's ethos, logos, and sometimes pathos by establishing their credibility and balancing emotions with logic when presenting the information. 

Likewise, information overload is a substantial contributor to the issue of misinformation. Some say information overload also affects the quality of students' work and even their basic understanding of researching and synthesizing information to create new ideas. From the perspective of a college student, there are instances where it is much easier to submit research papers that are cut and pasted onto a document from stolen material taken from different websites. While it is heavily encouraged to avoid this method, growing up surrounded by a surplus of information and technology, the realm of research is so vast that it seems impossible to know where to start. 

To stop the spread of misinformation and harm to society, we must all agree to read past headlines, check what news outlet published the facts or opinions, confirm the post date and time, research the author, look at what links and sources are used, look out for questionable quotes and photos, beware confirmation bias, search if other news outlets are reporting it, and finally, think before you share.

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