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Fact-Checking in the Age of Misinformation

Recently, an elderly relative in my extended family group chat sent a long message about how papayas cure cancer, citing a supposed USDA study and an emotional note where the writer mentions suffering from cancer for 16 years until doctors suggested eating more papayas. Such messages and WhatsApp forwards of South Asian boomers have become a bit of a joke within the community as the platform becomes integral for maintaining communication amongst most South Asian families. While seemingly harmless, they symbolize how easily information can be accepted when it appeals to personal sentiments or comes from someone you know or trust. And how verifying misinformation on social media platforms is more challenging as it becomes more personalized. It’s not just a specific age group at risk, though. The fast pace of dissemination and the ability for everyone to claim to be an “expert” on platforms like TikTok puts younger generations at risk of getting caught in these same misinformation spirals. 

“Everyone is susceptible to misinformation, because it plays with whatever existing biases we might have. Everyone has bias,” investigative journalist and editor Ernie Piper, whose work focuses on misinformation in a global context, told The ARD.


• Cross-check information you receive across various sources – don’t rely on one outlet to get the full picture. Fact-checking websites like Politifact or Snopes help verify potential misinformation.

• Make verifying misinformation a habit by getting students and adults to engage with tools like Bad News – a simulation game showing users how easy it is to gain fake credibility to spread misinformation.

• Learn and share media literacy resources, such as this one by NewseumED which breaks down different aspects of fake news. Find ways to share these with family and friends that make it easier for them to understand.

Lack of digital literacy and an inability to keep up with the pace of information sharing leaves boomers seven times more likely to share fake news than young people aged 18-29 in the U.S. (Vice). Cognitive psychology researcher Nadia Brashier attributes older generations’ susceptibility to having limited networks online, making them more likely to believe that unverified news comes from a trusted source (TwitterAssociation of Psychological Science).

That doesn’t mean younger generations are safe. Gen Zers’ recent shift to TikTok as a search engine over Google risks pandering to existing biases simply because of how the algorithm works. Information and library science professor Francesca Tripodi points out that TikTok’s algorithm works by keeping users circulating inside the app and doesn’t lead them to outside sources. This “vertical” flow of information makes it harder to double-check information. The personalized and human touch that TikTok content offers feels authentic but can lead users to rely on non-expert sources (NYTimes). How Gen Zers fall prey to misinformation has a lot to do with social media habits and the constant need to be updated or using infinite scrolling to procrastinate. “In many ways it’s just a habit – and the thing with Twitter is it feels productive in a weird way? You can catch up with many issues simultaneously and it gives the illusion of being informed,” London-based charity worker Emma Lyons told The ARD. 

NewsGuard, a site that monitors misinformation online, found that one in five TikTok videos contains misinformation (Business Insider). Health trends are particularly common on the site, such as homemade baby formula recipes, which pediatricians have labeled harmful. Health influencers, not medical professionals, are gaining influence with Gen Z audiences. In general, social media platforms don’t incentivize any of us to stop and re-evaluate the information we consume (Forbes). 

It’s easy to say that other groups are more susceptible to misinformation than our own, but in this growing age of over-sharing, each approach to news consumption comes with its own set of challenges around verifying misinformation. “I think people are predisposed to believe stories that confirm their existing beliefs. So if I see a story about the conservatives being corrupt I believe it, whereas if my grandparents see a story about Labour trying to bankrupt the country they believe it,” says Lyons. Additionally, verifying misinformation is made harder by the lack of resources available in languages other than English. “There is still a huge gap in technologies that can process and analyze non-English text, an issue for platforms like Facebook where nearly two-thirds of users use a language other than English. Communities outside of the Western sphere speak hundreds of different languages and that’s a massive barrier to using algorithms for those people,” data scientist Gratiana Fu tells the ARD.

The first step to learning to verify information is acknowledging our own weaknesses. Using fact-checking websites like Snopes or educating ourselves on how to identify misinformation through literary or verified online resources can go a long way in making users less vulnerable. Also, question the intentions of the source: who is saying this, and can I trust them? What do they gain from sharing this? Are they trying to sell something? Do other reliable sources back this up? 

“Debunking arguments is useful, but it’s often more effective to just stop and notice the emotional reaction that you have first to a piece of information. And then before looking at the claim, try to look at the source of the information critically,” Piper suggests.


• As social media becomes the basis for consuming news, misinformation is spreading faster and getting harder to verify.

• Verifying misinformation can be harder because it appeals to our individual biases, and algorithms target each demographic differently.

• Lack of sufficient resources in alternative languages leaves non-English speakers and much of the global community at a higher risk of consuming misinformation.

2400 1600 Anmol Irfan

Anmol Irfan

Anmol (she/her) is a Muslim-Pakistani journalist and the Founder of Perspective Magazine. Her work focuses on global gender justice, climate, media diversity, and more. Find more of her work at http://anmolirfan.contently.com.

All stories by : Anmol Irfan
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