Editorial: Facebook, Twitter allow misinformation to spread

By The Daily Evergreen Editorial Board

A surge of Google search activity targeted the topic of zodiac signs, beginning Jan. 13 and lasting through the long weekend. Facebook statuses stormed with contemplation of changes to the astrological identities determined by birth date, used by newspapers and web services to make predictive horoscopes.

However, the change in zodiac signs was a rumor started by uninformed reporting and spread by even less informed social networking. The explosive nature of such inaccurate rumors poses a great threat to the communication abilities of our generation. We often lack the ability to distinguish accurate information from nonsense.

The rumor originated when a newspaper mistakenly confused the eastern system of astrology that relies on stars with the western system of astrology determined by the sun and seasonal changes. Advocates of the western system argue seasonal changes affect life and behavior more than constellation changes. Regardless, the movement of stars, called precession, is not new news. Followers of eastern sidereal astrology already account for these changes when making predictions.

While the uninformed rush to tattoo parlors to have scorpions removed from their shoulders, intellectuals must make a greater commitment to ethical transmission of information. There are more than 255 million websites on the Internet and 152 million blogs, according to The New York Times. These massive crypts of information can be used as a great resource or a weapon of chaos.

From Swine Flu to celebrity deaths, it seems media sources believe it their job to cause frenzies by blasting the world with misleading and inaccurate details. Our job then must be to combat misinformation with critical thinking. Many are quick to recognize the extreme bias in election campaign commercials, yet few know how to sift out truth from presented messages. As arguably the most fundamental skill to be taken from a university education, youth need to begin applying learned skills to information offered outside the classroom.

The Daily Evergreen would like to clear up some common misconceptions about credibility on the internet.

First, blog posts are not news, even if they are linked from a reputable website like nytimes.com or huffingtonpost.com. Additionally, The Onion is supremely not news. Developed as satire, it now exists primarily to mess with gullible individuals.

Second, get your news from more than one source, especially for particularly shocking or monumental information. Though you should not rely on Wikipedia as a primary resource, do not hesitate to use it to check information you heard elsewhere, identify additional sources or increase your understanding of a complicated topic.

Third, when reading information, look for evidence of a well-researched author. Choose articles with specific names and titles of supposed experts, rather than just vague terms like “a scientist.” Fourth, though there are many benefits to technology like smartphones and iPads, which allow us to connect to virtually all information from almost anywhere, but notice the constraints of how these messages are delivered to you. The headline and first sentence of an article are designed to pull you in and make you read the rest of the article, not accurately convey the most important details of the story. Use your instant connectivity to stay updated, but do not count on it to keep you informed.

Finally, do not further facilitate the problem — avoid using your social media connections to pass on information you have not taken the time to research and confirm.

We are often identified as a generation that does not care because we fail to vote or watch the news. More accurately, we are a generation drowning in a sea of excess information we cannot figure out how to swim in. Learning to think critically is the only way we can rise to the surface of current events.

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