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HOW TO RECOGNIZE FALSE INFORMATION

In this section of our website, we want to provide specific tips based on the red flags and characters of false information to help you judge how trustworthy a piece of information is. Test out these tips in our quiz!

Please note: these tips have not yet been tested in scientific research.

 
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FIRST...

How do we interact with information?

Of course, the problem with fake news is that people often don’t recognize it. The amount of media sources has increased extremely and most people have trouble with distinguishing fact-based media from disreputable media.


Researchers found that expertise and trustworthiness are the two most important factors when someone judges if a news item is reliable or not. Of these two factors, trustworthiness has been found to be more important than expertise. Sadly, the trust in health organizations is decreasing. Additionally, this mistrust causes people to search for alternative available information that already confirms what they believe. Algorithms will make sure that people receive more similar information, so they get even further from fact-based medical information. This means more and more people are becoming medically misinformed.


The best way to weapon yourself against false information is learning how to be critical. That is why we want to provide help with our tips!

 

OUR TIPS

 
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1: CHECK THE SOURCE, AUTHOR AND YEAR

The first step to judge the reliability of information, is to check the source, author and year of publication of the article or post. It might be helpful to identify what the mission of certain websites or authors is to gain more context of the information. Quickly searching the author might give you crucial information: is the author even a real person? Finally, by checking additional sources mentioned in the article (if available), you can check for yourself if that information actually supports the story of the author. Background and context is essential to judging the trustworthiness!

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2: ACTUALLY READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE

Maybe this seems like pushing on an open door, but when you encounter information online: make sure you actually read the whole article. Headlines are often extremely exaggerated to make more people click on the article. Statements that seem like facts are often nuanced in the article.

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3: BE AWARE OF STRONG EMOTIONS

As we explained on the educational page 'Psychology behind MID', humans are emotional beings that often use their emotions in decision-making. Creators of fake information are all too aware of this, and they won't hesitate to use this fact to their benefit. This means that you immediately should be alert when a piece of information ignites a lot of emotions in you (especially with medical information: this information is supposed to be objective and neutral). The authors might be up to something... 

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4: BE CONSCIOUS OF HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY

We explained on the educational part of our website that there are a lot of cognitive processes that make us more susceptible to fake information. Just two examples of this are 'confirmation bias' and 'motivated reasoning'. We can't blame ourselves for this: this is simply how our brains work. However, we can outsmart our own brains by anticipating on these shortcomings. Being aware of the psychology that makes us more prone to believing false information will make us more critical about ourselves and what we believe. 


The psychological processes we explained earlier are:

  • Storytelling

  • Confirmation bias

  • Motivated reasoning

  • Cognitive dissonance

  • Cognitive miserliness

  • Fluency

  • Heuristics

  • Emotions

  • Social influence

  • Availability bias

  • False memory

  • The Dunning-Kruger effect

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5: NOTICE RED FLAGS

While reading and analyzing cases of misinformations ourselves, there were a few red flags that we saw in all misinformations. If you encounter information with one of the following red flags, be more cautious with it.

  • Polarization: the misinformations often try to create a (even stronger) division in society. For instance, between the government and 'the people'. This could be a clue that you might be dealing with a MID.

  • Creating a scape goat: when an article or theory is blaming one person or instance only for a certain problem, proceed with care. Problems are usually not this one-sided. MID creators use a scape goat to gain following of people that feel unheard in society. This is currently happening in the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Seeking sensation: the use of very strong, emotional or agressive language: by provoking emotion you are more likely to believe and share information. As said before, scientific and medical articles are objective and shed light on all sides of a problem. Fake information usually tends to be one-sided.

  • Impersonation of governmental instances or politicians: fake information creators sometimes report their information in the exact same style (colours, layout, font) as that of governmental instances. For example, in the Netherlands the RIVM is sometimes impersonated. This will make you more likely to believe the information, because it looks familiair.

FACT CHECKING!

All the peer-reviewed scientific articles and other articles we used to write this web page are listed below:

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