Diving into the Realm of Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories
Misinformation is a significant problem nowadays and it has been shown to distort people’s views from what the facts or evidence suggests. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread for several reasons, many times due to carelessness or unintentionality, and sometimes for the benefit of the one spreading it. The concept of misinformation can be explained through Santosh Vijaykumar’s article, “Pseudoscience is taking over social media and putting us all at risk,” and through my personal experiences while evaluating the argument presented in the article.
Santosh Vijaykumar’s article can be used to explain several aspects surrounding misinformation and how it’s spread throughout social media platforms as it gives rise to problems today. There are negative effects that occur from this spread which introduces the concept of conspiracy theories that deny the obvious causes to something or give an alternate explanation that people will believe in due to their lack of information. The main point of the article besides the examples given is how misinformation may affect one’s behavior and society as well as how scientists are counteracting this spread. The article begins with a focus on one very clear example of misinformation such as climate change on YouTube and how many videos suggest against the idea of climate change even though researchers presented evidence stating otherwise. Another example showing the manipulation of information is the Nipah virus outbreak which caused chaos when false information spread throughout a social media platform called WhatsApp. Understanding that people use social media platforms to communicate and to also look for information from time to time, the algorithms in social media are being turned towards people that are skeptical about topics and then they see more misinformation as it is suggested for them. While there may be these examples of the negative effects that it creates, companies bring in fact checkers to make sure the misinformation can be countered. Through all these problems, the article suggests that scientists should act and come up with ways to effectively to maximize how they communicate the evidence to the public.
The article states that scientists need to counteract the spread of misinformation and that we should be worried about how this problem can affect society and people’s behavior. As shown in the summary above, Vijaykumar uses the example of climate change to draw the readers in as it is globally talked about topic. Right after, there is a transition to evidence about a study which reinforces one of the problems that arose, conspiracy theories on climate change. The technique used is logos, showing that there is evidence to support the climate change example is logically appealing to the readers. People accept misinformation as they only look for information and beliefs that fall in line with what is in their mind and only pull that out which is confirmation bias. Through social media algorithms, the public is consistently going through the action of confirmation bias which helps to reinforce the “acceptance of misinformation”. The article rhetorically questions the readers to how one counteracts the consistent flow of misinformation.
The argument presented by the source is stated and is then further developed by giving different examples and tying them together to show the effects. One example through YouTube was given as the company had possibly made changes to its platform. Another example is the concept of Deep fakes which are hyper-realistic videos that substitute in faces of people, objects, or anything making misinformation seems like it’s true. Knowing what is currently happening surrounding the topic or the Deep fake in question, one would most likely be able to distinguish between the fake and reality. For instance, if you knew about a political figure and what they do when a Deep fake of that figure surfaces online, you may be able to differentiate that the figure is someone else or that what they are doing does not fit in your current knowledge. Background information surrounds the examples given and is then completed by how it shows misinformation, but every example is not expanded upon. While this may be effective in explaining the spread there is less information on how scientists are fighting against the spread which downplays on the argument of the negative effects of the manipulation of information.
As a student, I can personally relate to the effects of the spread of misinformation. When researching or simply looking for information it is important to understand that many articles on the web are wrong as scientific evidence is stacked against them on certain topics. On social media when people or celebrities spread information that they think is right, it is a problem when that advice or information causes a problem. I have sometimes seen celebrities trying to spread their knowledge about nutrition and saying that only eating this will give you a great body. Many people would follow the advice that the celebrity gives because they have a large following, but that nutritional advice may not work for everybody. For the people that do follow it and then it doesn’t go well for them, for instance, they start losing weight and get sick, then that’s misinformation leading them astray. Who’s going to know more, a nutritionist with years of experience giving the advice or just some celebrity giving the advice, they may be spreading that information to promote a product or gain profits. While there are ways to counteract misinformation as seen in the article for examples such as the climate change crisis, there are other ways that it can be done.
When listening to conspiracy theories or reading about them, it twists how one thinks about topics and in general how they behave. There are many conspiracy theories out in the world, one being aliens in area 51, and no one has yet to find any scientific evidence to prove that there is indeed extraterrestrial life hidden on a secret base somewhere. Looking at the evidence backing up a topic, while in some cases you might not want to accept it, it will give you clarity on a topic, such as Climate Change. As a student, I tend to look towards articles and information that is peer-reviewed or backed up by scientific evidence so that I can have a clear understanding of what is happening. When researching on the internet for a research paper, often I go to any article that I find interesting and start reading up on it, but I do not know if there is any misinformation involved. Then I try my best to look for scholarly articles that have been peer-reviewed or try to cross-reference the existing article that I would be looking at with other articles on the same topic.
Misinformation is indeed a problem that everyone should pay attention to and counteract it everyone should also keep up with current events so that they may be able to distinguish between fact and fabrication of information. Santosh Vijaykumar’s article provides a good explanation into the spread of misinformation and a few ways to counteract it such as the fact-checker, but that most are not the only way nor are the examples given the only ones. Students and people, in general, should adopt the idea of checking the information that they are unsure about with scientific evidence to make sure that the risk of misinformation is decreased.
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