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Navigating a world of misinformation

With Super Tuesday just one week away, political conversation on social media is heating up. One tweet in particular caught my attention over the weekend. 

“Facts: Bernie [Sanders] wants a $15 an hour minimum wage,” the tweet, which garnered more than 88,000 likes over the course of two days, said. “That would mean a gross salary of $31,200 for a 40 hour work week.” 

OK, this information is not wrong. Sanders states his support of a $15 an hour minimum wage directly on his campaign website. But what point is this tweet trying to make? 

“But he wants to tax anyone making above $29,000 a year 52%,” the tweet continued. “That would make gross salary $14,976, or $288 a week. Socialism sucks.” 

I immediately knew this claim was false. No political candidate in their right mind is going to propose a tax plan in which everyone but the working poor suffers tremendously. Following a quick Google search, Snopes reinforced my belief that this interpretation of Sanders’ tax proposal is wildly incorrect. 

I realize not every person is a naturally skeptical, soon-to-be journalism school graduate with a political science minor. It is easier than ever before to fall for false information on social media. With 1.5 million followers and verification through Twitter, the man who sent this tweet out does not fit the traditional mold of an internet troll. 

Forty to 50 years ago, when the handful of existing television and radio networks were heavily regulated by the government, this kind of unsubstantiated fact would not see the light of day. 

Those days are long gone. 

Misinformation and pseudo-facts compete alongside truthful information for an audience in today’s hyperconnected world. Often times, it is the most outlandish claim which garners the most attention—positive and negative—in the marketplace of ideas. 

Navigating this world of misinformation is easier said than done. Modern gatekeeping methods, like account verification and social media moderation, often prove futile. False information is bound to fall through the cracks and reach a wide audience. 

With this in mind, what is the best way to guard ourselves against misinformation and stay as informed as possible? 

I could offer advice which says we need to become more media literate or we need to follow only trusted news sources on social media. This is not necessarily bad advice, but it fails to address our thought process as we seek out news and information. 

We need to decide if we actually want the truth or not. 

Whether you lean left or right, information confirming your pre-held biases and beliefs is not difficult to find. Biased news organizations, pundits and fan pages are happy to pander to one side of the political spectrum and reap the benefits of high exposure. Fabricating the truth and gaining an audience often go hand in hand. 

It is not wrong to have political opinions. It is not wrong to be a Democrat or a Republican. But if the only people you follow on social media are those who think the same way you do, the chances are high you will fall victim to false information. 

Unbiased information may appear more difficult to find, but it is out there. The internet makes it easier than ever before to be informed on issues and political candidates. We just need to step out of our own social media bubbles and actively seek the truth. 


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