Misinformation solutions rely on regulation, media literacy

October 7, 2021

Misinformation continues to threaten the communication of reliable information, but mitigating its spread will require people to be more diligent and platforms to regulate the content they permit. 

Although the dissemination of misinformation is sometimes unintentional, it has repercussions on the general public and especially people who are impressionable like children.

Everyone should take measures to ensure that a resource, article or message is accurate. Taking the caution of increasing skepticism and fact-checking sources are crucial steps to preventing the spread of misinformation.

Anita Rao, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said that regulation is a key component of halting the spread of misinformation. She is an empirical marketing researcher who observes the way in which consumers react to deceptive advertising. 

“Consumers should be more skeptical when hearing things that seem too good to be true or really anything in general,” she said. “But really beyond that, we need some kind of regulatory body who is doing the research for us.”

Anita Rao

Dr. Rao referenced the Food and Drug Administration as an example of a regulatory agency which has the power and credibility to check the legitimacy of certain drugs and prescription medications. She said a way to apply this idea to more conventional information consumption is prioritizing “.gov” and “.edu” as opposed to “.com” sites when doing research. Additionally, utilizing impartial sources such as the New York Times is key.

Dr. Rao emphasized the danger and inconsistency of social media and especially its effect on the younger generations.

According to a 2018 study conducted by professors at the MIT Sloan School of Management, posts containing dishonest information were 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth. 

“My personal solution, and one I suggest to all, is just not to look at social media for information. Instead, look at facts. Though facts may be more difficult to digest, you know for sure whether or not the information is trustworthy or not,” Dr. Rao said.

Similarly, Zizi Papacharissi, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who serves on the editorial board of 15 journals, said that becoming more aware of the way in which people are vulnerable to propaganda is part of the solution.

Zizi Papacharissi

“People in general can send messages — loud ones — when things are wrong,” Dr. Papacharissi said. 

She suggests people should not be tempted to look at materials that seem too good to be true.

“A strong message can be sent by refusing to click on deepfake or clickbait content… [and] by refusing to consume content that underestimates our intelligence as citizens.”

Additionally, Dr. Papacharissi emphasized the relevance of resources such as librarians as almost all libraries have solid guides for fact checking.

“How to prevent misinformation — that’s the million-dollar question,” Dr. Rao said. “It is really a matter of being smart and using reason when deeming a source to be credible or appropriate to spread.”

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