It’s really pretty simple. I’m not suggesting that you become a full blown contrarian masquerading as a skeptic that thinks everything is bullshit (*looks around sheepishly*). Just stop accepting everything as fact without stopping to ask yourself “is this true?”
What does this entail? Pause for five seconds before you click that share button. Ask yourself:
“Are there really spiders under toilet seats?”
“Can drinking water REALLY cure cancer?”
“Are these all the facts?”
“Is this person who claims to be looking out for my interest actually looking out for my interest, or their own?”
“Might the purpose behind this story actually be to out suckers like me who blindly share stupid shit?”
There are many, many things people simply take as fact. Some of these things may appear to be harmless, but sharing false information is never actually harmless. How do you feel when you find out someone you know is spreading false information? Does that improve your opinion of them? Are you more or less likely to listen to that person afterwards? What about when you share something that purports to do one thing, but does another? That image you’re sharing that says essential oils can cure cancer? Someone might actually rely on that.
If you’re not sure something is true, just don’t share it. Don’t tell people about it. It’s pretty simple.
Well, what if it would be particularly compelling if true? What if that herbal remedy really MIGHT cure cancer? Do some research. The Internet is an amazing place; you can access most of the world’s information fairly readily. Don’t look for confirmation, look for opposition. Try to disprove the information. You’re not necessarily trying to come up with a definitive answer, just trying to figure out whether the information is accurate or might not be accurate. If it might not be (or isn’t), don’t spread it.
Let’s look at “documentaries” as a more in-depth example. I see way too many people watch a documentary and, for many reasons, assume the information is true.
Consider, for example, historical documentaries. These are ones that attempt to relay historical “facts”. Even these types of documentaries are subject to bias and are rarely completely objective. Many aspects of history can be colored by personal biases, whether on purpose or not. This can be done in completely “truthful” ways too. For example, a filmmaker might present a certain set of facts that depict a particular issue in a particular light in an effort to get the viewer to come to a particular conclusion. However, the filmmaker might leave out other facts that would otherwise result in viewers coming to a different conclusion.
Now consider documentaries that have an agenda, like anything by Michael Moore, Super Size Me, Blackfish, Food Inc., etc. None of these films are setting out to present an objective view of a particular issue. And most of them don’t bother trying to hide it. Why would you accept something like that as true? If an attorney representing someone on the other side of a lawsuit came to you and laid out a bunch of facts, would you accept them as true? I’d hope not. Don’t make life choices simply because some filmmaker finds the three scientific studies that support their position and decides to ignore the 1000 other ones. If you find the information compelling, go research the other side of the story. For all you know, the filmmaker might actually be lying (see: Super Size Me).
Still feel like being irrational and making life choices off of some propaganda? Fine, just don’t spread it.
But what if the person is a professional? An expert? It doesn’t matter. World renowned economist says that some particular political action is the right thing to do? There’s probably a world renowned economist who disagrees. Article shared by a personal trainer says drinking water can cure cancer? Easily verified as false.
Every time you share something, it increases the chances that someone will find that information or be impacted by it. What happens when you share that story about those Duke lacrosse players that raped that chick? Oh wait, that didn’t actually happen…but now what’s going to happen when a potential employer Google’s one of the former players? I’ll let you guess what information was more popular and thus appears more frequently on the Internet. (Hint: it’s not the fact that it didn’t happen.)
My main question is, at what point did it actually become okay to spread false or misleading information? If you came to find out that something you shared was objectively wrong, would you be okay with that? I posit that anyone that purports to have even the slightest bit of integrity would not be okay with that.
Become more skeptical. Don’t believe information simply because someone presents a compelling argument. Raise the bar, you’ll benefit everyone, including yourself.