As the midterm elections approach, Americans are already being subjected to misinformation campaigns, often online, that are intended to provoke confusion, anger or even action. When the election is over, it’s almost certain there will be even more misleading material competing for people’s attention.
You can defend yourself against this onslaught and help curb both the spread and the effect of misinformation. Several scholars have written for The Conversation U.S. about this process, often called “inoculation,” because it prepares your mind to repel infectious, harmful ideas. Here are some of their key pieces of advice.
1. Learn about misinformation’s effects
Misinformation not only gives people incorrect material – it leads them to disbelieve facts. As John Cook, a cognitive psychologist at George Mason University, explained: “When people were presented with both the facts and misinformation about climate change, there was no net change in belief. The two conflicting pieces of information canceled each other out.”
He went on to explain that “when they collide, there’s a burst of heat followed by nothing. This reveals the subtle way that misinformation does damage. It doesn’t just misinform. It stops people believing in facts.”