With over 60% of Americans twelve and over at least partly vaccinated, the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States appears to finally be on its way out (fingers crossed). However, getting vaccinated has become a contentious topic for a lot of people. The social media landscape has always been a forum for people to voice their own opinions, but when accurate information is as vital as it is right now, that same feature becomes a dangerous bug. The point of this piece is two-fold: first, we’ll discuss some tips and strategies to fight misinformation online, and second, if someone you know has fallen down the misinformation rabbit hole, we’ll offer some advice on how you can help them.
Everything on the internet is there for a reason. Maybe someone thinks they will get money or attention from it. Maybe someone wants to signal the kind of person they are, or the kind of person they want to be seen as. Maybe it is just about updating and keeping in touch with a community. In every case, with every piece of information, every infographic, article, meme, et cetera, take the time to consider who made this thing, what they want to accomplish with it, and why they have that goal in the first place. Pay attention to the emotions it stirs up in you; that is a helpful clue in deciphering what the creator wanted.
Read laterally. When you come across a claim, dig a little deeper around it into where the claim comes from. What other sources can back it up? What kind of relationships do those sources have to one another? Reputable outlets and fact-checking sites can help point you in the right direction. Other coverage that says the same thing is also helpful because it can give examples of how to re-word information without losing the original message; more on that a little later.
Take note of which sources repeatedly get things right, and which ones get things wrong. If you aren’t sure something is true, don’t share it, and warn others about sites and outlets that don’t provide a full picture.
When fighting misinformation, be empathic. I get it, it can be hard to be patient with people. But angrily telling them that they are wrong is a surefire way to upset them, and more often than not, it causes them to retreat into their original idea. In the words of America’s science teacher, Hank Green, “As long as it is about winning this war, it will be about perpetuating the war.” When people have questions and fears, offer reassurance and steer them towards people with trustworthy answers.
Better yet, put the information in your own words and talk to them one-on-one. Vaccine-hesitant people prefer to hear from people that they already know and trust over politicians, celebrities, influencers, and the like when it comes to changing their minds. Keeping it simple helps bridge the gap between the intimidating ivory tower of science and the regular people just living their lives.
Questions should be encouraged. While there are conspiracy theorists and bad-faith arguers out there, most vaccine-hesitant people are just people who want to learn more about the world. This is an opportunity to learn together, to build up trust and support in each other.
Social media, like any public forum or meeting place, is at its best when it is used to socialize and connect with other people. Hopefully these skills will help you and the people you love cut through the clutter and get to the internet’s human heart. One civil conversation at a time, we can make the world a better place.
GetVaccineAnswers.org: a website set up by the Ad Council, Covid Collaborative, and the CDC that lays out answers to a number of frequently asked questions about vaccinations, including a locator for vaccine appointments in your area.
Crash Course: Navigating Digital Information: Crash Course is one of the most respected educational channels on the internet, and in these ten videos, host John Green leads lectures on developing skills to fight misinformation in ways both large and small.
Cyber Civics: A media literacy curriculum targeted at middle-school students developed by CyberWise and specialized in teaching digital citizenship and critical thinking skills.
News Literacy Project: A nonprofit that specializes in media literacy in relation to news stories. They have educational resources from a number of reputable sites to teach about the ins and outs of vaccines, misinformation, and how we can all move forward together.
Katherine Lynch is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies Communications and Media with a minor in Marketing. She loves to read, write, and learn about the world, passions she is eager to share with the MEDIAGIRLS community.