Infectious misinformation: the most contagious agent of 2020
Around 18% of the population struggles with either mental illness or substance use disorder — both of which may worsen under life in a pandemic.
The indefinite physical distancing and unclear path to normal life aggravates one of the most troubling stressors. Uncertainty.
Uncertainty augments how we experience reality. It trips the fight or flight response. Knowing what to expect has a surprising effect on perception.
One study reported, “volunteers were most stressed when they had a 50/50 chance of receiving a shock and were least stressed when the outcome was known; even it if meant they had a 100 percent chance of getting a painful shock.”
Knowledge is power — and calm.
Protect your mind. Snooze conspiracy theorists on Facebook, don’t feed the trolls on Twitter, and excuse yourself from interacting with those who only make you feel worse.
“No,” is a full sentence. You don’t have to explain the choice to disengage. Reduce more stress by consuming only quality sources that help alleviate the burden that uncertainty brings.
How do I tell what information is reputable?
Credible sources have three traits.
1) They don’t sell ad space.
2) They actively add to existing knowledge through activities like research. It’s knowledge gathering as opposed to distributing.
3) Publications avoid emotional adjectives and opinions, and they don’t embellish the findings.
Reputable sources accurately represent information because not to could spell ruin. Where credibility is the currency, you can trust that it’s protected.
Conversely, media outlets are not subject to the same consequences of misrepresentation or biased reporting. Bending the truth may have benefits for media outlets in the form of devoted viewership.
A just-the-facts delivery fails to entertain quite like sensationalized news, but information that shapes your world view should be held to a higher standard than the cinema.
Here are three theoretical treatments of the same story.
The President played fast-and-loose with American lives. Now all he cares about is the economy.
This headline has a bias and presents opinion as the story without stating what happened. It shapes your perspective without actually telling you anything. I wouldn’t waste time reading the article.
Experts say White House missteps likely to cost American lives. Prioritizing the economy over evidence-based recommendations may lead to preventable death.
This doesn’t tell you how to feel about these facts but still contains potentially biased conclusions. Has a decision been made regarding the plan, or is it one of many? Is prioritizing an accurate description? Did someone say “I am prioritizing…,” and if not, what happened to give the writer the impression the economy had been prioritized over other concerns?
Evidence of community spread surfaced in January. Congressional testimony on Feb 5 urged politicians to prepare for a potential pandemic. Testing excluded anyone without travel history for weeks after confirmed local transmission. Social distancing began March 16.
A reader can make what they will about the information. We don’t know why the restrictions remained, and we can’t speculate about motive or sluggish response. It’s just the facts.
Much can be misrepresented, misunderstood, or omitted, as information moves from those that gathered the information to those that will sell the story.
Accurate information gives us a sense of control and eliminates the fear and uncertainty. Even when we know something unpleasant awaits us, knowing helps.
Stress can harm you. Protect yourself.
I’ll leave you with the mottos of the institutions in the above discussion.
“The truth will set you free,” from the university and the public health school-specific motto, “Protecting health, saving lives — millions at a time.”
“In thy light shall we see light.”