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How to Spot (and Help Squash) Misinformation

Jun 28, 2020

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The internet has never been a more politically or ideologically-divided place than it is today. At Yonder, we’ve been closely observing the narratives unfolding – both true and false – and the factions, or hyperactive subcultures, creating, driving and amplifying them.

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has changed the internet landscape as we know it. Fringe narratives, led by agenda-driven factions, have entered the mainstream a staggering 10x faster than in pre-COVID times. What this means: misinformation more quickly abounds and shapes public opinion when people are scared or uncertain. 

Misinformation and the disingenuous accounts that promote them can be difficult to spot, and you may be contributing to its spread without even realizing it. Before clicking “share” or engaging with a post, take the following steps to do your part to help stop misinformation in its tracks.

1. Pause and Reflect: Misinformation is often inflammatory and engineered to elicit a powerful, emotional response. Does it immediately make you feel angry? Does it seem one-sided? Take a moment to reflect before you react — even if it’s something you agree with or supports your beliefs.

2. Consider the Source: Take 30-seconds to explore the user’s account. A few tell-tale signs they’re not legitimate: 

  • Their account was created within the last 2-3 months 
  • They have several random numbers at the end of their username
  • There is a large discrepancy between their number of followers and those they follow (or the inverse) 
  • They post several times in the span of a few minutes, or on a seemingly “scheduled” cadence 
  • Their profile picture isn’t a photo of a real person

While just one of these attributes should be a red flag, an account with two or more is almost certainly a bot or fake. 

3. Think Intent: Factions conspire, coordinate, and mobilize to shape public perception or incite action. One of the most inconspicuous ways they do this is called, “concern trolling.” A faction at one end of the political spectrum will create  a false narrative that their opposition agrees with, causing them to overreact out of concern. 

4. When in doubt — just keep scrolling. Engaging with a post, even to voice disagreement or to provide a correction, typically signals to a social media platform’s algorithm that the post is popular and should be served to more peoples’ newsfeeds. It may also provide the poster with the gratification they were seeking. While it may be satisfying in the short term to chime in with your two cents, instead utilize the new false news reporting features recently rolled out by several social media platforms.

Watch our webinar with Yonder’s Managing Director of Government Affairs, Robert Matney, who moderated a discussion with Zach Aldrich (Senior Manager of Insights & Analytics at Walmart), Bob Pearson (Senior Advisor at W2O Group and an educator on combating disinformation at the U.S. Department of State) and Ryan Fox (Chief Innovation Officer at Yonder) on how brands today can prevent damage to their reputation and protect consumers when false or inaccurate information spreads and takes hold online.

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