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Will We Ever be Rid of Misinformation?

Misinformation is an online plague that I honestly feel we will never fully be able to get rid of. I do feel that the problem will definitely get better as people have more experiences with it and become more versed in doing our own research and spotting questionable information.

I feel as though misinformation succeeds because there really is a lack of media literacy in society. Whether than comes from older generations being less familiar with social media, people being too biased to their preconceived notions, or just the fact that those who post misinformation know how to make it appear real. Technology and our social media platforms are so advanced now that faking news and information is so easy to do. There are things like deepfakes where we can make it appear as though somebody said something they did not through video or audio clips. There are sites and/or blogs that are purely biased and only spew misinformation with a real domain, images, and other media to make it appear real, and the main reason it succeeds, there are enough people who believe and support it. In order to really put some sort of end or to slow down misinformation, people have to start doing their own research and really look in depth at the sources they’re reading information from, or it will only get worse.

https://hwb.gov.wales/api/storage/27bed631-35ad-42d6-9bb9-96a6b7df569a/stop-think-check-1.jpg

This is the main reason why I feel like we will never be able to make misinformation disappear. There are just too many people out there who don’t think twice about what they see or hear and will believe whatever they see from who they follow on their timelines. Another reason it won’t go away is because there’s no reason for these “sources” to stop. As long as there is some group of people willing to click on their links and read their content, they will continue to make content. Plus, others will just follow suit seeing the success in certain or styles video of misinformation. I do 100% feel like we can slow down misinformation and get rid of alot of these outlets, but I just don’t see how it could ever fully go away because there will always be two sides to things. For example, politics and Covid are two things that have split opinions, but these are just two examples of endless topics that give the opportunity for misinformation to be produced. Overall, I feel like our goal should just be to educate as many people as we can on how to spot misinformation and to do our own research. Look into the sources that are posting things and trust your skepticism. There is so much out there, and we are all bound to fall for it once in a while, but the better we are at spotting and discrediting it, the less common it will be.

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Trust Indicators

For this assignment, I’ve decided to evaluate azcentral.com, and Scottsdale Independent.

AZcentral:

Journalist Info: All of the journalists seem to be well qualified as they are apart of the Arizona Republic or USA Today which are reputable sources.

Labels: AZcentral seems to have a clear purpose as they section their website by topic/category. There’s sports, politics, opinion, local, investigations, and a few more tabs to search for specific topics of news.

References: After looking through multiple stories, any sources used in the stories were clearly identified and linked with quick and direct access to them.

Local: AZcentral definitely makes use of local sources and news as they have an entire section just for local news. While they do report on nationwide news it seems really the main focus of their news is local Arizona based news.

Diverse Voices: This is where I feel as though AZcentral needs to improve. After skimming through the headlines of the local section, it seems a lot of the news was focused on politics in Arizona. Also, the two locations that were featured in headlines were Scottsdale and Chandler which tend to be higher income places in the state.

Actionable Feedback: There is no place for readers to participate and give direct feedback on the site which should definitely be featured. Even a simple comment section would be a big difference.

Methods: It seems the methods that the journalists used were all standard. Nothing seemed rushed or lacking from the stories featured there was just a lack of diversity.

Best Practices: AZcentral does appear to care about these trust factors as they have a separate page dedicated to their values and principles. It does also mention diversity and the promise to represent diverse communities so there is a chance that the more recent local news just happened to not feature as much diversity as usual.

Summary:

AZcentral seems to be a very solid source for your local news if needed. I don’t think they would be most people’s first choice and they definitely do not compete with the major news outlets like AZfamily, 12news, or FOX10. However, they do provide a wide range of news and seem to be partnered or connected to USA Today for more nationwide larger news. They have a large list of tabs to search for news, they provide a ton of stories on their homepage with images, they show the weather, an Olympic medal count, and other nice features. However, I think the overall appearance of the site is bland. While the appearance has nothing to do with substance, the lack of appeal could very well turn readers away. Immediately I was not super engaged in looking through the site when I first clicked on it and had to really start going through all of the tabs and sidebars in order to really get an understanding of the site. They do at least hit a lot of the boxes for the trust indicators. Their journalists all appear to be very well qualified and under the same employment which should mean that there is equality in the standards they look for and the work it took to be in the position these journalists are in. They do appear to have a clear purpose in providing local news to Arizona residents obviously, but they also seem to be very politics driven. I did not see much of a bias which was refreshing, but every other featured story had to do with the government or a senator or something of that nature. While this information is important, a lack of variety again will turn some readers away as some people including myself would like a bit or a break or escape from politics because it’s all we see on television and it’s a lot of what we see on social media. An area that definitely needs to be added in is a place for readers to participate. There were no comment sections featured at the end of stories and nowhere for direct engagement from locals. The other negative I would have for the site despite hitting on a lot of the trust indicators was more diversity. While all the indicators are important, I feel like diversity is too big of an indicator to not have clearly presented as need news outlets like AZcentral to represent them. Diversity is mentioned in their statement about values and principles, so I think they could get the benefit of the doubt as I’m not a regular reader of AZcentral.

Scottsdale Independent:

Journalist Info: There is a good amount of information for the journalists as there is a tab titled “Our Journalists” at the bottom of the site. What I didn’t like was that each author had a link/underline on their name but when you click on it you are not redirected anywhere.

Labels: This sites labels are pretty interesting because they have most of Arizona’s major cities all listed at the top so you can see specific stories for your community and where you live. They also do have similar tabs to AZcentral in listing news, business, education, things to do, opinions, and neighbors which was an interesting one.

References: For as many stories as I was able to view (many required a subscription), it seemed as though the sources were all clearly provided and easy to access.

Local: They definitely utilize and showcase local news and stories as previously mentioned with the various tabs of cities across the valley.

Diverse Voices: Scottsdale Independent immediately caught my eye on diversity as this was one of their top featured stories which was great to see.

Actionable Feedback: On all of their stories they have a comment section for those with an account which is already a step up to AZcentral. They also give readers the chance to submit letters through the opinions tab which is direct participation, plus the tab called “Valley voices” which are letters that have been posted to the site.

Methods: All of the methods used be the journalists seem to be in best practice as no story seemed to be biased or unethical even in the opinions section.

Best Practices: Scottsdale Independent also had their own about page which featured all of their policies and promises to practice these methods.

Summary:

Scottsdale Independent was definitely the better site of the two in my opinion. For starters, it was a more direct and grander looking site. You see the name Scottsdale Independent in very large letters with their header of the communities they represent. Ranging from Mesa, Sun City, Paradise Valley, Tempe, to my former community in Glendale, to my current in Goodyear/Litchfield Park. I think this site had a much more personal feel to Arizona and it really seemed like their mission was to represent each and every community to the best of their abilities. The other thing I immediately noticed and that stood out from AZcentral was the diversity they featured. The fourth story featured on their homepage showcased Jackie Johnson who was hired as Scottsdale’s diversity program director.

https://www.yourvalley.net/scottsdale-independent/stories/scottsdale-hires-jackie-johnson-as-diversity-program-director,286432

There really wasn’t much that I could knock about the site in the trust indicators. At first, I thought there was not as much information on the journalists as there should have been. However, after looking a little deeper they had an entire page dedicated to learning more about their writers and editors. One way to maybe improve upon this area would be to fix what appears to be the links provided on the authors’ names. When you click on a story the author has a link attached to their name; however, when you click on it, there is no redirection where it should take you to their about page. One area where Scottsdale Independent knocks AZcentral out is in the participation they give to the readers. Under every single article I was able to view there was a comment section for subscribers which is greatly important as local news should be receiving local feedback. Not only does this improve the quality of the stories themselves by taking in the readers’ feedback, but it also allows for those who are in these featured communities to talk amongst each other and understand how others feel. Perhaps they gain a new point of view or just agree with their neighbors. The best way they allow for participation is by allowing us readers to submit letters and stories directly to them. When you hover over the opinion tab there are two options: to submit something to them, or to view the “Valley Voices” which are stories from everyday people in “the valley”. This feature was so awesome to me as it adds to that personalized feel of their news/site, and it also may even provide opportunity for Arizona residents to be heard and recognized on important topics. Overall I thought the Scottsdale Independent is a news source deserving of more recognition.

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Whose Responsibility is it?

In our current online climate, we’ve been plagued by misinformation and fake news. While most of this comes from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, other “sources” of information are beginning to do so including the very news that comes on every single night. So, whose responsibility is it to stop this?

While I feel like it ultimately comes down to us as users of social media platforms to do our own fact checking and research, our lives could be made a bit easier with some help from these sites. Twitter has done a pretty solid job in trying to warn its users about misinformation by flagging certain posts that have to do with controversial topics. They’ve also given us the opportunity to flag and report harmful posts which has definitely helped limit misinformation, and it makes sense that Twitter has put some of the responsibility into our hands as there are millions of tweets a day. Things like politics and Covid-19 are just a couple of examples that automatically get flagged by Twitter warning users that not everything said may be factual.

https://thenextweb.com/news/twitter-let-users-flag-misinformation-amplifies-bias-syndication

I feel like Twitter is a prime example of what social media platforms – specifically Facebook – should follow. While I feel the overall responsibility falls onto the social media site themselves for implementing policies and codes that can flag misinformation or mute/suspend/ban harmful users, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to limit this as well and make these platforms a better place.

However, we know that not all platforms are interested in this. Facebook has already been proven to manipulate the information on their site in order to gain more traffic. In fact, this has been an issue for many years now with the site and despite multiple claims that they are working to stop this, it’s clear that money is their main priority and clicks = $.

https://factschronicle.com/facebook-reveals-plan-to-try-to-combat-fake-news-112.html

This is where I feel like an ever-higher power will need to step in such as the government. While I really don’t think this should be necessary at all because the power running these sites should the ones improving the issue, when they blatantly refuse to do so, then action should be taken. This has already been an issue discussed as a poll conducted in 2021 showed almost half of Americans want the government to do more to stop misinformation. However, some argue that there has already been enough restriction on speech online and in the world and allowing more would give the government too much power.

Overall, I’d feel like the ultimate goal would be to just do as much as we can to flag and report misinformation we see online. Despite some efforts being made by social media sites, it has to be difficult to keep up with millions of daily users, millions of posts, shares, retweets, etc. because with this many users we will likely never see the end of misinformation. However, we can definitely make an impact on how common it is, and the sooner we are able to identify and remove it, the more discouraging it would be to create and post. One can hope this would ultimately result in some sort of end to the problem.

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Claim Analysis

To begin, any source of media/information that has to do with the topic of Covid-19 is worth double checking. So much misinformation and conspiracy theories have surrounded this topic so before believing anything, further research has to be done.

I’d first start by searching something along the lines of “difference in masks for Covid”. I then started by looking through an extremely trustworthy source being the FDA and their article on what different masks provide in terms of protection.

However, it’s always good to look through multiple sources regardless of the strength of a source like the FDA. This next article is from New York Magazine again about the different strengths of various masks. When you can find that multiple trusted sources say the same or very similar facts, then you know that it’s likely solid evidence.

Since none of these searches led me to either the article or just the image itself that we’re looking for, it’s time for a new search. What I did next was type in exactly what is shown on the image – “Time it takes to transmit an infectious dose of Covid-19”. This immediately led me to find the image in question. The first two links that show up on Google are Reddit links. While at first this doesn’t seem too encouraging, once you click on the Reddit links, you will be taken to the image.

So, the first link will bring you to a subreddit called r/coolguides, which showed the same original picture we’re looking for.

However, the Redditors in the comments who provided links to sources did not provide the exact source of the picture we need. The first source linked us to acgih.org with this image of the chart:

and the second source was a link to the University of Minnesota’s research on Covid-19 and mask transmission with this version of the same findings:

So, after not finding the same photo, I clicked on the second Reddit link on Google and immediately found the direct source of the image.

This subreddit was r/Masks4All and it clearly shows the same image and the direct tweet from Wall Street Journal Health. So, with that we can click on the WSJ Health username and go directly to their Twitter page.

From there, you click on the media tab to see all of their photos and media which shows us the image we’re looking for from January 6, 2022. WSJ provided the link to the article where this image was originally from as seen here:

Overall, I think it’s safe to state that this was a credible and legit piece of media and information. Wall Street Journal is a known reliable source and so their findings can definitely be trusted. Plus, we were given multiple sources that showed off the same findings providing much more security in this information. Doing research like this is extremely vital because this could’ve just been a random source posting random numbers and misleading people into thinking a certain mask is better than one that is actually safer. Information on Covid is always worth double checking because this image did not look super convincing at first glance, but by digging deeper we see that Wall Street Journal were actually the ones to provide that information.

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Current Platforms’ Attempts to Curb Misinformation

In the wake of recent events, Spotify is one of the newest platforms looking to take a stand against misinformation. There has been a lot of talk about the Joe Rogan podcast and all of the awful misinformation he spreads and how terrible of a human being is. Besides being racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic, he also is not a believer in Covid-19, masks, vaccines, the whole nine. While he is not the only one, he is the biggest one on the platform and has caused a large debate on social media sites like Twitter. His “content” did catch the attention of Spotify founder Daniel Ek and his team. Over 100 episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast have been removed for spreading false information and using awful language such as racial slurs. This also sparked a change in the platforms guidelines on the topic of Covid. As of Saturday, January 30, Ek and Spotify released their new rules and guidelines that include a content advisory with anything relating to the virus, and new ways to inform and give awareness to creators on the dangers of the content they decide to share. However, despite some slight effort, many Spotify users and people in general are not happy with this. The argument is that these rules are not specific enough and are basically just saying “hey this podcast talks about Covid, be careful what you listen to!” rather than actually stating “this podcast contains misinformation”. Specifically in regards to Joe Rogan, and especially amongst the communities he disrespects, they are very unhappy with Spotify as they are still allowing him to spew these awful things and pay him his $100 million contract rather than take a stand against harmful content. It is almost as if Ek is defending Rogan and taking profit over integrity. Immediately I’d suggest Spotify to just be clear and direct with their disclaimers. If something is complete bull- then say that, let your users know that they are listening to nonsense rather than allowing people to support certain people and their content.

https://townsquare.media/site/366/files/2022/02/attachment-spotify-ceo-daniel-ek-joe-rogan.jpg?w=1200&h=0&zc=1&s=0&a=t&q=89

The next platform I chose was Twitter. Twitter is probably the easiest platform to find misinformation. You can almost type in any topic in the world, and you will see something ridiculous, certain topics you can almost argue are about 50/50 with what’s real and what’s not. I feel like Twitter is definitely the toughest social media site to create effective guidelines to combat misinformation just with the amount of freedom there is on the app. About a year ago, Twitter unveiled their new system called “Birdwatch” that gave users the power to flag and report misleading or just incorrect information. This was definitely a good start for Twitter by giving us users the power to help out and flag tweets because there could be hundreds of thousands if not millions of tweets a day from all over the world about all sorts of things. However, this could backfire slightly as those who believe in the side of misinformation and those ideals, could use this feature to flag things they don’t agree with despite being true. Of course, Twitter should be able to see that good content is being flagged and will dismiss the report, but it still slows down the entire process of removing the bad things. Where Twitter has not been shy and has done a great job is being transparent about content no matter who it is tweeting. For example, when Donald Trump was throwing a fit about the 2020 election, Twitter had disclaimers stating that there was false information being spread by him and they ended up outright suspending and eventually banning him from the site as his rhetoric became too harmful.

https://cdn.neow.in/news/images/uploaded/2020/05/1590555066_screenshot_(649).jpg

On Twitter’s help center they have an entire page stating the details of their policies on misinformation such as what will and will not get you flagged, how to report it, and the consequences of not following these rules. There are not a ton of ways I’d say that Twitter can improve on their efforts because I really think they do the best job in giving users the tools to report misinformation and they have made the biggest effort. However, one way I think they can take things one step further would be to not even allow tweets to be posted that directly go against their guidelines. Rather than allowing these tweets to go up and get reported and eventually removed, just completely prevent these from going up on the site. Perhaps even, if there are repeat offenders, after the second time they could receive a suspension and a third time could result in a ban from the site.

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