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How To Navigate Your Newsfeed And Sort Fact From Fiction

A red street sign saying 'danger due to misinformation' in what seems to be a city, there are headlights in the background
[Flickr]//Creative Commons
Our experts share their research on misinformation and how you can better identify it in your news diet.

In the past decade, we’ve grown increasingly accustomed to a news cycle that operates at a breakneck pace and the ability to follow along with news updates on devices that fit into our pockets. But constant access to information does not necessarily make us more informed. The proliferation of social media and online information sites opened the doors to a less-regulated news economy, which means misinformation and hoaxes can often spread faster than the facts themselves. 

Hours after President Donald Trump disclosed his positive COVID-19 diagnosis last Friday, hoaxes and confusion about his condition were rampant, and official reports and unnamed sources contradicted one another. This is just the latest example of misinformation polluting the news ecosystem this election cycle. Others include continued Russian interference on social media, conspiracy theories about child sex trafficking and the president’s lies about mail-in ballots and election fraud.

We've always had misinformation. But we've never had so much misinformation. In particular, we've never had a president who makes false statements with such frequency. And that's not a partisan statement. That's just a fact. - Brendan Nyhan

Host Frank Stasio talks to two experts on misinformation: Deen Freelon, an associate professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill andBrendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College.Chavi Khanna Koneru also joins the conversation to share her work as the executive director of North Carolina Asian Americans Together. The nonprofit group formed to provide specific voter information and education to Asian American North Carolinians.

Tips from the experts:

1. Check your confirmation bias at the door

"Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret facts in the light of what you already know, what you already believe, and to seek out facts that accord with what you already know and already believe," says Deen Freelon. "Disinformation really runs on confirmation bias. Nearly all the disinformation that you'll see is attempting to appeal to one side of the political aisle or the other, and it does so by telling each side what it wants to hear. And oftentimes, that's going to be negative things about the other side."

2. Diversify your news diet

"When you are in an information environment in which you are primarily — or exclusively — receiving content that agrees with or at least does not radically conflict with your own side, that really is an environment in which disinformation can flourish, because you're not used to receiving information that may conflict with your ideals. And you don't really know how to deal with it," explains Freelon.

3. Hold those who share your political beliefs accountable

"It's easy for everyone hearing this to think: Yeah, misinformation is a problem. The other side really engages in a lot of it," says Brendan Nyhan. "But what I encourage people to do is think instead about their own side and how they could hold their own side accountable, and how they might be able to put these values into practice with the politicians who listen to them, who are most responsive to them — or people in their own social networks, the people, your friends and family, who are on your side. Those may be the people who are most likely to listen to you. And you might be able to encourage them to not circulate false statements, or to avoid reinforcing the worst aspects of our politics."

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Amanda Magnus is the editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She's also the lead producer for on-demand content at WUNC and has worked on "Tested" and "CREEP."
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.