Finding The Facts in a World of Misinformation

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In a world of deepfakes and misinformation, too many people are tricked by things they see online, believing what they’re seeing or reading is factual. Readers these days often have short attention spans and tend to just read the headlines, making it easy for readers to fall for fake news also known as disinformation. Some websites have taken on the mission of fact-checking rumors, health claims, and political claims, especially those that show up frequently in social media; but even those websites have been shown to have bias.

Examples of Disinformation and Deepfakes

Disinformation exists on both sides of the war in Ukraine. Both sides know this and use the other side’s propaganda to paint a particular picture of their version of things. As the BBC reports in this article, you can see how the Russian government has cracked down on all foreign and domestic news and social media companies making it a crime to present any view opposing the Kremlin’s view of the war in Ukraine. The people of Russia must use VPNs or satellite Internet services to get unfiltered news. To the average Russian, they cannot get news contradicting the government’s view of Russia as liberators of Nazis in Ukraine. However, unfortunately, Ukrainian officials have also presented propaganda to the world too. Russia has used this within their version of events, sighting the video game footage in their campaign by the Ministry of Education to share in this video these false stories with the children of Russia.

The Ghost of Kiev

One of the most popular stories from the ongoing war in Ukraine is ‘The Ghost of Kiev’, a fighter jet pilot who supposedly shot down numerous Russian fighter jets. The story started circulating after Petro Poroshenko, a former Ukrainian president, tweeted from his official account a photo he claimed to be the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’. The image showed a MiG-29 fighter pilot in his cockpit, his visor concealing his face, his thumb raised to the camera. A few days later, the Ukrainian government’s official account followed up with a flashy Twitter video praising the ghost. The tightly edited clip means to show footage of the anonymous pilot as he shot down six Russian military aircraft. The pilot did so, the clip claims, in the first 30 hours of the invasion.

The image Poroshenko shared, it turns out, appears to have been taken from a 2019 article about Ukrainian pilots testing new helmets, while one of the most widely shared videos of the ghost came from a popular flight simulator game.

With stories like the Ghost of Kiev and the shutdown of all the free press inside Russia, folks must be vigilant in fact-checking the stories they read. You must be skeptical and you must fact check what is being reported to you no matter the source. Let’s turn now to some advice on finding accurate information in the media world we live in.

How To Find Accurate Information

Similar to looking at Phishing emails reaching your inbox, you should be cautious of any information you see online that may be “too good to be true” or gives you an instant reaction. Following our guide below will help you do your due diligence to sift through the misinformation you see.

Stop, Investigate, Find, Trace (SIFT)

Mike Caulfield, a digital literacy expert, developed a method for evaluating online information that he calls SIFT: “Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context or source.” When it comes to news about Ukraine, he says, the emphasis should be on “Stop”, pause before you react to or share what you’re seeing. It’s important to acknowledge your own bias when reading articles, as you may agree with the disinformation, but it may be completely false (confirmation bias). Along the same lines, seeing an article coming out of a well-known source like CNN, AP, FOX, MSNBC, etc doesn’t necessarily mean it’s factual either; they all have their biases too. 

It’s natural to want to be the first to share information with your friends, family, or colleagues but you need to make sure it’s accurate first. And no, this doesn’t mean researching the ‘fact-checker’ on social media as your verification method, because again, those have been proven in court to be ‘opinions’ as well. Investigating the source and examining for bias and finding other coverage of the story is a good first step in attempting to verify the information. 

Investigate the Accounts

Most people are getting their instantaneous news through Twitter, Facebook, or even TikTok. While valuable information can be shared through these channels, it’s important to look into the accounts sharing certain information and find out where they are getting their information from to determine its accuracy level. On Twitter, an easy way to root out disinformation-posting accounts is to check their profile, are they brand new? Have a low following, or follow only a few accounts? What were they tweeting a couple of weeks or months ago? Make sure they are who they say they are. If you’re not sure, you can look elsewhere for the information to verify. You can use similar tactics when looking into Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram accounts.

Check Disinformation Fact Check Sites like Snopes.com

There are sites dedicated to myth-busting online. Snopes.com has multiple sections devoted to fighting misinformation, fact-checking claims on various popular online social media platforms, and viral videos. They even did a piece on the Ghost of Kyiv here. In many cases, the veracity of disinformation is easily disproven and documented on sites like Snopes.com. Be suspicious of everything you read online.

Just make sure you aren’t using fact-checkers used by Facebook (AFP, The Associated Press, Check Your Fact, The Dispatch, Factcheck.org, Lead Stories, PolitiFact, Science Feedback, Reuters Fact Check, USA TODAY), as they’ve been revealed to be based on opinion, not facts

Reverse Google Image Search

For images similar to what was posted around the Ghost of Kiev, you can easily search the Internet for that image in the article and see if it’s been posted in the past in other articles. To do this, you can either right-click on any image in an article and select “Search Google for image”. Another method is to save the image onto your device and go to https://www.google.com/images and select the ‘camera’ icon, upload the image, and click ‘search’. 

Finding Primary Source Material

As you may have learned years ago in school, you need to find a handful of reliable sources of information in order to verify the truth. The best way to do this is to find a scholarly and peer-reviewed article. One great resource of primary sources of information is JSTOR. Although it may be more difficult to find primary sources on ongoing, current crises, it does hold valuable information on historical events and the research done around them. Many reputable news organizations in the free press attempt to verify their articles or hedge them if they cannot verify the source material. Use a healthy dose of skepticism today while consuming popular media online.

Concluding Thoughts

Finding accurate information is becoming more and more difficult in times like these. It may seem tedious to investigate nearly everything for its accuracy, but it’s what needs to be done with the growing number of deepfakes and disinformation posted daily across social platforms. Don’t become one of the gullible social media users that unknowingly share disinformation because they didn’t do their due diligence! Start a trend within your family and friend groups to verify information and articles shared, it only helps!

To learn more about sifting through Misinformation, watch this short 3-minute video:

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