[Disclaimer: the resources and tools listed in this piece are not affiliated or endorsed by Valley Christian Center (VCC) or any of its entities].
With the oversaturation of news and information, it can be confusing to know where to look or what to trust. Information is the most accessible it has ever been. However, we are living not only in a COVID-19 pandemic but also an “infodemic,” a blend of ‘information’ and ‘epidemic’ coined in 2003 by journalist and political scientist David Rothkopf in a Washington Post column, when the world’s attention was on the current SARS crisis.
Over the last year, The World Health Organization (WHO) has increasingly warned of the dangers of our current infodemic – the challenges we are facing as a society bombarded with too much information. Too much information, in fact, that it can easily turn into massive miscommunication and confusion, leading to the creation of misinformation and disinformation.
What is misinformation and disinformation, you may ask? I’ll let the experts explain and share an excerpt from this September 2020 joint statement by WHO, United Nations (UN), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and other international institutions:
“The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the first pandemic in history in which technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, informed, productive and connected. At the same time, the technology we rely on to keep connected and informed is enabling and amplifying an infodemic that continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic.
An infodemic is an overabundance of information, both online and offline. It includes deliberate attempts to disseminate wrong information to undermine the public health response and advance alternative agendas of groups or individuals. Mis- and disinformation can be harmful to people’s physical and mental health; increase stigmatization; threaten precious health gains; and lead to poor observance of public health measures, thus reducing their effectiveness and endangering countries’ ability to stop the pandemic.
Misinformation costs lives. Without the appropriate trust and correct information, diagnostic tests go unused, immunization campaigns (or campaigns to promote effective vaccines) will not meet their targets, and the virus will continue to thrive.
Furthermore, disinformation is polarizing public debate on topics related to COVID-19; amplifying hate speech; heightening the risk of conflict, violence and human rights violations; and threatening long-terms prospects for advancing democracy, human rights and social cohesion.”
The Lord calls us to seek truth and love thy neighbor. If we aren’t hypervigilant about staying informed with the truth, it can be more than detrimental to our neighbors, it can even cost lives. I know I have been guilty of sharing headlines too quickly before checking the source and making sure it is from a reputable outlet. Fact checking takes extra time, but it is more important than ever to slow down, pause, fact check, and really think hard about the news we are consuming and sharing.
Media literacy is one of many areas we do not get taught or trained on in school (at least when I was going through school). It is the critical thinking skills required to evaluate and understand the mission, angles, goals, and endorsements behind various media sources. This includes discerning fact from opinion, in which the lines can easily blur on lots of mainstream news talk shows and segments. Media literacy is not restricted to one medium. Without media literacy, we are not equipped with the tools to seek the complete truth; we may turn to the familiar, or what we like to hear, using selective hearing.
There is a term in psychology/sociology called confirmation bias. It is defined as “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” Without intentional care, this bias can distance a person from counterarguments to the point it eliminates any room for discussion other than affirmations to that bias. Confirmation bias shows up in many areas of life, such as snap judgements we may make about other people, brands, or cultures. When it comes to media literacy and being vigilant about what we consume, we must be aware of our confirmation biases. We all have them.
Additionally, ALL social media platforms utilize algorithms (a set of rules and formulas used to rank, filter and organize content for users within certain social media platforms. Its major role is to show users the content according to their preferences and previous activities on social media) that are specifically designed to increase confirmation bias and keep us in a state of heightened emotion – this leads to increased polarization and can make us much more susceptible to misinformation.
When it comes to identifying the news sources you would like to intentionally hear from regularly, it is important to think critically about who is giving you information. I often get questions from friends who are skeptical of the media where they can find unbiased, down-to-the-brass-tax reporting, and in my experience and opinion, two great ones include The Associated Press (AP) and National Public Radio (NPR). Feel free to comment down below with others. In my experience, these are two sources where you can find simply straight facts (AP) and/or unbiased reporting, hearing from multiple perspectives (NPR). See the resources list down below for more.
If we read or hear a questionable fact, some easy, nonpartisan websites online to fact check include FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, or Politicfact.com, all which are neutral. Snopes also has a list of the “Hot 50,” where they debunk or confirm the top 50 biggest internet rumors that people are currently checking out and consuming/sharing.
In this Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times from BioLogos, signed by over 7,000+ individuals and organizations, including well-respected pastors, theologians and community leaders, the petition claims:
“because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we will: Correct misinformation and conspiracy theories when we encounter them in our social media and communities. Christians are called to love the truth; we should not be swayed by falsehoods (1 Corinthians 13:6). We will actively promote accurate scientific and public health information from trustworthy, consensus sources, and use this information when making decisions for our families, churches, schools, and workplaces.”
I strongly encourage you to read and reflect on the rest of the statement – they have some other really great knowledge nuggets addressing the polarization and politicization of science in the public space. It goes on to implore that “Christians should listen to scientists and doctors when they speak in their area of expertise, especially when millions of lives are at stake.” In touching on the medical field, they also add, “Pursuing medical treatment is not a sign of weak faith in God, but a grateful acceptance of God’s gifts.”
I am a fan of satire and comedy. Sometimes a poignant from the likes of “The Onion” can get a few laughs when shared with friends. Beyond sharing satire and comedic commentary, it has become more pertinent than ever to be vigilant against what we consume and share online. This is a life-or-death situation.
My challenge to all of us as a community of believers is that we hold each other accountable – check what we are sharing and posting online, look for fair, balanced reporting. We can encourage one another to take more time away from news and social media, which we know can do a world of good for our mental and emotional health.
When you do log on to catch up the latest, please do your part so we can fight this infodemic, together.
- “What is media literacy, and why is it important?” Common Sense Media. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/news-and-media-literacy/what-is-media-literacy-and-why-is-it-important
- “What Is Media Literacy?” Media Literacy Now. https://medialiteracynow.org/what-is-media-literacy/
- “Confirmation Bias.” By Iqra Noor. June 10, 2020. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/confirmation-bias.html
- The anti-misinformation initiative, Verifed, from the wider United Nations community. https://shareverified.com/en
- “This chart will tell you how biased your favorite news source is.” By Kevin Dicksinson. April 03, 2020. BIG THINK. https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/media-bias-chart?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2
- “10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts Rather Than Alternative Facts.” By Paul Glader. Feb 1, 2017. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/berlinschoolofcreativeleadership/2017/02/01/10-journalism-brands-where-you-will-find-real-facts-rather-than-alternative-facts/?sh=1198d12de9b5
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Resources. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
- Fact Checking: FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, or Politicfact.com
- Immunizing the public against misinformation. 25 August 2020. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/immunizing-the-public-against-misinformation
- Managing the COVID-19 infodemic: Promoting healthy behaviours and mitigating the harm from misinformation and disinformation. 23 September 2020. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news/item/23-09-2020-managing-the-covid-19-infodemic-promoting-healthy-behaviours-and-mitigating-the-harm-from-misinformation-and-disinformation
- Prayer Into Action: Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times. 2020. BioLogos. https://statement.biologos.org/
Words We’re Watching: ‘Infodemic.’ Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/words-were-watching-infodemic-meaning