6 Tips to Avoid Spreading Misinformation

False information–misinformation–is difficult to contain, let alone reverse, due to the advancement in digital technology and the reduction of gatekeepers from news sources. When you find misinformation within hot topics, such as GM foods and organisms or animal agriculture, human dimensions (e.g., attitudes and beliefs) play a major role in the acceptance of information–accurate or not.

There is no one way to correct misinformation. Instead, you will need to personalize your strategy based on your goal, the misinformation, the audience you are targeting, etc., otherwise, your method could backfire.

But that is a long, complex discussion that will take more than a blog post to discuss. So, let’s talk about some recommendations based on a comprehensive review of social science research that can help us avoid and correct misinformation when we are communicating with an audience on charged issues.

  1. Say it right the first time–Ensure your facts are correct and accurate the first time they are communicated. It is difficult to change someone’s mind about a topic once misinformation is presented, even if they do accept the correction. 
  2. Make the corrections as soon as possible–If misinformation is presented, it is best to fix it as soon as possible so the misleading content does not spread further.
  3. Try to avoid saying “not”–Simply negating a sentence containing false facts is too closely related to the original incorrect statement. Using affirmative statements removes the possibility for misinterpretation or reinforcement of misinformation.
  4. Control the message–Simply put, do not repeat the false claim. That only helps spread what you are trying to correct. Control the message by pivoting the perspective toward the correct information.
  5. Use credible sources–Using credible sources in your content strengthens your message, but which ones you choose to use will have your audience decide if your message is worth listening to. Do not rely on sources that are opinion-based, have no sources, or seem partisan. 
  6. Visuals are your friends–People like visuals more than reading entire articles. And, for the most part, they are easy to interpret if they are aesthetically pleasing and simplified. 

Note: This blog post is based off an article written by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, scholars who study misinformation and misperception in political communication. Their article summarizes social science findings on media misinformation and misperception. While their report is comprehensive, it should be noted that this is one of many publications focused on communicating controversial/political topics and that there is much more to learn about correcting misinformation and misperceptions. 

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