What You Should Do Before Hitting Send or Share

What You Should Do Before Hitting Send or Share

If you feel confused, you're not alone. One of the worst things about fake news is how deceptive it is. It's hard to know what's real and what's not anymore. The purveyors of this crap package it that way so that it gets around before someone can call BS on it. As Mark Twain once said,

"A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." 

And therein lies the problem. The proverbial cat is out of the bag. The fake news has morphed into that genie who got out of the bottle or the cat that got out of the bag. There's no undoing it. It finds its place in the realm of "I read somewhere that" kind of thing. So, how can we stop this flow of deception?

Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks

The way to stop it is the truth's way of counting to 10 only it has to do with pausing before you hit send to ask yourself some important questions. Remember, mainstream media like NPR and CNN are just as guilty as the lone blog owner. In fact, they're often worse because they have a financial incentive to get you to click through on a sensationalized headline. Here are some steps you can take.

  • Question the source: Go to where the news came from originally, not a blogger or news site. Any info they have shared is subject to bias and cherrypicking.
  • Read beyond the headline: Health news is notorious for this one. A headline will speak of a cure or breakthrough but neglect to mention that the fact that an experiment was done on mice, not people. The physiology is not the same. It's not the same between mice and rats either.
  • Look at the numbers: A study involving five individuals is not a reason to get excited about new findings in anything. It's like saying if I tossed a coin five times and it was heads every time that means it will always be heads every time. And we know that's not true. To be valid, it has to be more in the tens to hundreds to thousands of participants, depending on the nature of the study or experiment.
  • Distinguish between study and experiment: An experiment is what we think of as a clinical trial. Researchers test a treatment versus the conventional one and a control group that receives no treatment or the current one. Neither the researchers or the participants know which group they are in to avoid bias. A study, on the other hand, often involves a large number of participants. But, the scientists question people about different variables, relying on their memory and recall. It's not that a study isn't valid, but rather it changes what conclusions we can draw from it
  • Correlation is not causation: A study can only find associations between things. It doesn't prove anything because too many other unknown things could have played a role. That's like saying wearing boxers causes prostate cancer.
  • Anecdotes are not evidence: Just like the participants in a study, you're relying on one person's experience. If she says a treatment worked, you can't be certain what she did fix her problem. Nor do you know if something else came into play. You can't even be sure she had whatever she said he had in the first place. For example, you have to question a story that makes a claim smoking causes GI issues because other factors could be the cause. A smoker may be more likely to drink or eat unhealthy which could the cause of her condition. 
  • Reading info on the internet doesn't make you an expert: Browsing articles and blogs on the internet doesn't make anyone an authority in anything but surfing. Education isn't something you get in an evening of reading. Besides, you also have to screen your sources to make sure what you're reading is valid in the first place.
  • Watch out for red flags: Anytime you see words or phrases like cure, breakthrough, "what your doctor doesn't want you to know," "big pharma," be careful. It's deception at its ignorant worse. They show a total lack of the most basic principles of science if you see them. Science never decides anything based on one study or experiment. It is the preponderance of the evidence that science speaks to along with its repeatability.
  • Give it a pass if it says "scientifically proven": Science never, ever proves anything. It merely makes conclusions on what it has observed. Don't believe me? Check out Albert Einstein's take on it when he said, "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." Since science can't view every scenario, it can't make blanket statements. Anyone who says that phrase has just shown their card as someone who doesn't know the first thing about science or its methodology. We're talking Science 101.
  • Finally, know the difference between absolute and relative risk: When you see headlines that say A reduces B by 50 percent, you've been hooked by this insidious deception. Health news is filled with it. What they've done is to look at the raw numbers for their spin. For example, let's say your risk of getting Condition A is 0.5 percent in your lifetime. A study finds that doing B increases it to 1 percent. The headline you'll end up seeing will say B doubles your chances of getting Condition A. Technically, it's correct, but it's deceptive, to say the least.

Navigating the news is becoming more and more difficult as quacks turn to tricks like these to manipulate people. There's a whole science behind it. Essentially, it is using human psychology against itself. Play it smart; pause before you hit send or share.

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