How to Avoid Being Duped by Online Information

Being able to assess the information you come across online is a very important skill to have in this day and age. Here are some tips on how to do so and avoid being duped.

When consuming news or other information, it is important to evaluate the credibility of the sources. This can be done by looking for the following indicators of credibility:

  • Look for the author's expertise and reputation of the website. You can explore further by checking their credentials and looking for other articles they have published.
  • Examine the content itself. Look for precise language, facts and figures, and official sources for quotes and statistics.
  • Check the date of the article. You should consider how recent the article is, as information can age quickly in the digital world.
  • Evaluate the logic of the piece. See if the author(s) use logical reasoning and evidence to support their arguments.

It is important to fully understand these points in order to truly evaluate the information you encounter. “There are no naive observers anymore; everyone is biased,” says M. Gregg Bloche, a former physician and professor of law at Georgetown University who wrote a book on medical misinformation. “The trick is to find out what you can believe.”

It can be helpful to verify the information from other sources as well. It is important to seek out multiple sources and compare the perspectives offered. It is also vital to learn about what might be motivating the authors of these sources and what their biases might be.

However, it is important to note that even if you follow these steps, it is difficult to always evaluate correct information from incorrect information as there are many angles and biases that may be hard to recognize and interpret. Throughout history, we can find examples of when even credible sources and people have spread misinformation.

In the 19th century, the father of modern epidemiology, John Snow, was among the first to note that cholera was a water-borne disease, yet he faced resistance as people believed that it was an airborne disease. This notion was supported by well-established officials and clergy who believed that disease was a divine form of punishment for immoral acts. This shows that even credible sources can support misinformation, and it is important to always evaluate the information critically and not simply believe what is perceived as the popular opinion.

John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher of the same era, noted that "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." It is important to stay vigilant and not be complicit by spreading misinformation yourself and to always try your best to verify the information you come across online.

While the act of verifying information can be a productive process, it is important to note that it can be emotionally tiring and draining. It is okay to feel frustrated with this process, as our minds are not trained to always be critical of the information we come across, especially when we want to believe certain information that supports our beliefs.

According to Jenny Byrne, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester who studies cognitive load, states that "the cognitive underpinnings [of skepticism] are relatively thin. We aren't wired to be doubting creatures. It's much easier to be credulous than skeptical."

While this may be the case, it is imperative to train ourselves to think critically and evaluate information in an analytical manner, especially with the accessibility that the internet provides.

Lastly, it is important to recognize that part of misinformation thrives off of our desire to confirm our pre-existing beliefs. The concept of confirmation bias is well-studied in psychology and it is a common tendency for humans to seek information that confirm their beliefs and to interpret information in ways that align with these beliefs. It is important to recognize this tendency and actively work against it when evaluating information.

Overall, evaluating information is a skill that can be honed through practice and with an understanding of the various factors at play. With the accessibility of information on the internet, being able to differentiate between credible and non-credible sources is crucial. By following the steps outlined above, you can avoid being misled and more accurately judge the information that you come across online.

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