How to Fight Misinformation

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With the elections less than 12 months away, misinformation is gaining attention. From concerns about voter interference to partisan forces seeding news with a spin, there may be good reason to worry. How can community radio stations do their part to combat misinformation and check facts?

While we have all heard terms like fake news, what is misinformation, really? Stories that obscure issues, present facts in a manner intended to sway the audience, and deliberately confuse people are among the most common sorts of misinformation. It is important to understand that the specter of misinformation’s impact on past elections may have been overstated. However, the “vast menagerie of misinformation” undermines legitimate sources like radio to inform the public.

What are the most common kinds of misinformation? Misinformation takes many forms. Memes and “Photoshopped” images proliferate across many social media networks. Articles and video are also commonly used to spread misinformation. At its most insidious, deepfakes are misinformation that is deliberately created with audio/video tools to show a person saying something s/he never said. The Pentagon is now investing resources into debunking the deepfake phenomenon.

The most problematic kind of misinformation may be when correct information is remembered to validate our own biases. In this sense, researchers noted, the danger of misinformation is not how it alters the public’s knowledge of a subject, but how it affects our democratic norms.

Can your station check facts and address misinformation? Here are just a few case studies, ideas and resources to help you:

  • How to Combat Fake News and Disinformation is a primer on the kinds of misinformation that are most commonly spread and a plethora of ways to address it. From government regulation to media efforts to call out disinformation and misleading stories, the movement to challenge fake news is diverse. The primer also frames the obligations of technology companies, educational institutions and other stakeholders. If your station is trying to grasp the issues of misinformation and media, this article is a good place to start.
  • Looking for creative ways to fact check with and for your audience? Poynter’s A Guide to Anti-Misinformation Actions Around the World offers scores of ways media makers are tackling falsehoods circulating among the public. Whether it is crowdsourcing fact checks or text messaging replies to questions about stories of the day, media producers are inventive. Borrow from these ideas and make your mark locally.
  • Social media is the epicenter of misinformation and a recent study may give you tips for challenging a meme or article’s veracity by getting others to weigh in on its quality. Researchers discovered that politically nonpartisan checks by laypersons were highly regarded by the public and, in some instances, were seen as more trustworthy than established fact checking entities. This was particularly true for those who suspected news outlets brought a bias to their coverage.
  • 10 Ways to Combat Misinformation: A Behavioral Insights Approach is a practical guide from a public-relations think tank on how to speak to audiences about misinformation. Correcting information quickly, with details and context; offering visualizations when possible; and affirming the listener’s values are crucial to defeating false stories before they propagate too far. There is even a handy PDF to download and share. 

NFCB has hosted webinars on the subject of effective newsgathering, including a Solutions Journalism Network discussion on deep balance, and how to build a community radio news department.

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