Information spreads like disease. And, it’s just as powerful.
We all know with the popularity of social media, “going viral” has become something of a phenomenon to which those who post videos and statuses aspire. It’s given us with both lighthearted wit and profound calls to action. Viral media shows how socially connected we remain despite any interpersonal disconnect that might seem to come from spending more and more time isolated in our screens.
Now, in a time of forced distance for many of us (to stop the viral spread of actual disease), viral media can be a light in the darkness. It can also cause irreparable damage.
The danger right now comes primarily from the misinformation spreading about a truly life and death situation, but it reaches far beyond the virus itself. Misinformation can poison all aspects of our life, deepening political divisions, creating schisms in friendships and families and causing actual harm.
With such a platform available to us, it’s crucial that we use it well. Like the Peter Parker principle advises: “With great power comes great responsibility.” To that end, I would urge everyone to act more like a journalist (as Spider-Man is himself, in a way).
Think critically when you see any news but especially online where everyone with a keyboard and a platform can put ideas out into the ethereal permanence of the internet. As the linked Associated Press article above urges, look for multiple sources to confirm claims. You also likely know that Snopes and Politifact can sort online fact from fiction.
Trust sources that actively work to earn it. Local media will still try to attract attention through headlines and writing, but journalists in your community are also typically invested in that community. And while some might argue that traditional media outlets aren’t keeping up with the times, I would instead argue that the standards to which we adhere mean that there are more considerations before publishing.
Look for perspective. If you see a story or an article that looks grim, think about what it means for you as the consumer. What is the writer trying to convey by sharing this information? How does it impact or shape your worldview? Again, most traditional media try to be as objective as humanly possible, but there’s also usually a good reason why that story was chosen and how it was written.
Hold yourself accountable. Think twice (maybe three times) before you post anything, and if you do, prepare for the consequences. We are all human. We all make mistakes. As long as we take responsibility for those mistakes and heed the lesson, we will continue to cultivate a better-informed society.
Bottom line, be careful what you’re consuming and spreading. Parroting rumors, memes or any unsubstantiated claim is like washing just one hand. You’re doing something, sure, but it’s not likely to stop the disease.