Almost everyone enjoys the benefits of the Internet and social networks in their lives. Not everyone is aware of the risks and problems they may bring.
One of the most serious problems is the rapid spread of the so-called fake news that not only mislead thousands, but also create and feed myths, hinder the development of certain processes. Ecology and sustainability are no exception – they are notoriously surrounded by various conspiracy theories preventing people from initiating the changes that our planet desperately needs.
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Fake news prevents needed changes
Andrius Šatas, an expert on sustainable lifestyle, has dedicated his life searching for solutions our planet and humankind need. According to young professional, sustainability and ecology are becoming more and more important, more and more people have a deeper, not superficial understanding of these topics, but, sadly, not all examples are encouraging. When talking about environmental issues with others, Andrius sees not only positive examples, but also meets many people, who are affected by apathy and conspiracy theories.
"The myths we have debunked 5 years ago are still persistent and are often used as justification for irresponsible consumption", he said.
According to Šatas, all harmful myths and conspiracy theories come from unreliable sources on the Internet, comment sections and irresponsible authors.
"There are usually no filters for fake news on social media, and the more outrage causes, the further such ‘news’ spreads. That is why it is crucial to employ critical thinking when dealing with sensational content and radical statements. If they are true, it will not be difficult to verify the information in other sources, where both the authors and their competencies are indicated", Šatas advised.
False information and fake news, he said, tend to hinder the needed change, and the consequences are, to put it mildly, devastating.
"By not verifying the facts that we then share ourselves, we can do serious harm and create myths so pervasive that even a decade later we would be trying to debunk them. By checking facts from different sources, we train not only our understanding of sustainability, but also develop our online literacy skills, we can more and more easily spot sensational ‘content’ that is indifferent towards any factual accuracy and are clicks orientated", Šatas said.
Signs that information should not to be trusted
Although nowadays the topic of necessity to filter information found on social networks is quite popular, it is clear that in real life people tend to forget and overlook certain things, thus false information easily slips into their heads.
According to Aistė Meidutė, editor of "Delfi" initiative "Lie Detector", difficulties in this area usually are the result of certain misleading reasons.
"At first glance, it may seem difficult to distinguish misleading information on social networks, because often people, who post certain messages, employ stories that would be impossible to check
for accuracy, such as allegedly personal experience of neighbours, friends or other people; that is how they send particular message, impose certain ideas. It is also more difficult to trace the real source of information, as there is no URL that would lead to distributors of such information", she said.
However, according to Meidutė, some signs can serve as an indication not to trust certain information on the social networks.
"The first question one need to answer is who is sharing this relevant message: is it a private individual, a social network group or a trusted media outlet, maybe an organisation’s official account? Any messages published by unknown individuals or groups of users should be treated with caution. Of course, such content is not necessarily false", she explained.
According to Meidutė, illustrations, videos and additional links and references inside the text, that may help finding information on the same story in other sources, are powerful tools helping to distinguish reliable information and fake news.
"This method of consuming information is called lateral reading. With lateral reading information consumer leaves the website or social network they are browsing in order to find more contextual details about the topic of interest in other sources", Meidutė elaborated.
Meidutė emphasizes that, when browsing social networks, it is important to be sensitive to the tone of the users who share information: whether they report the news objectively, or whether they employ emotional language and aim at persuading rather than informing. "The heavy use of emotional language and the pushing of certain conclusions on the reader are also red flags of possible manipulation", she shared.
Reliable sources of information
According to Meidutė, the lateral reading method is easily applicable when browsing social networks and checking reliability of information that interests you. She shares what reliable sources could help in checking the credibility of information.
· "Google Lens" is a valuable tool finding out more contextual details about the posted photos. It can help find out in which contexts the same video has been used online.
· Videos can be verified using the "InVID We Verify" – this browser plug-in is useful for verifying any video material. It allows splitting video into individual frames and reverse image search each frame.
· If the message you are interested in mentions specific details, such as the names of the people involved, the titles of the researches, the place and time of the event in question, all these references may be applied to search for information on the same topic in other sources, such as official websites of media organisations or databases of scientific papers.