How Kansans can help stop the spread of misinformation

AARP volunteer Ann Garvin speaks about AARP Kansas volunteer activities at the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library in March 2019. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Maren Turner is state director for AARP Kansas.

The internet is full of information, some of it accurate and helpful, and some of it misleading or false. So how do you make sure you’re getting accurate information before you share it with your friends and family?

AARP is proud to be a trusted source of information and has worked with MediaWise for Seniors to share tips on how to help ensure you get accurate information and stop the spread of misinformation.

The internet and social media can be very helpful. You can stay connected with loved ones, take care of important business, watch your favorite movies or learn a new hobby. The possibilities are seemingly endless. How do you separate what’s accurate and what’s not comes down to some important steps.

It’s critical that before you click that “share” button, you pause and consider the source and intent of the information and do some fact checking. Take an active role to ensure that what you share is accurate and report any misinformation. That way you can help slow the spread of misinformation and prevent it from misleading others.

Some misinformation is harmless, but some is malicious and created solely to take your money and/or steal your identity.

What should you watch out for when looking for accurate information and what actions should you take to find out if something isn’t true?

First, pause. Approach what you read with healthy skepticism and think critically about what you encounter online. This simple act can slow the spread of misinformation.

Second, consider. Read the whole story to look for details and original reporting. Does the content tell you who, what, where, when and why? Does what you’re reading make you feel a sense of urgency, excitement, anger, worry, vindication, or defensiveness? A strong emotional reaction signals that you should do some research.

Third, track down the facts using a set of three questions developed by the Stanford History Education Group: 1) Who’s behind the information; 2) What’s the evidence; and 3) What are other sources saying?

Making sure you have accurate information is important before you share it. According to a Pew Research survey, 52% of Americans have shared misinformation, and “a vast majority of them said they didn’t know it was made up when they did so.”

Before you share, remember to pause, consider and then track down the facts. We can all be susceptible to falling for misinformation, but these steps are key to sorting fact from fiction. Look for additional resources and information provided by AARP and other trusted sources to make sure what you have is accurate.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. For information, including how to submit your own commentary, click here.