By Dylan Frazier
“Well I saw it [on Facebook], so it has to be true. [And] because I agree with it,” said Department Chair of the Communication Department, Diana Montague sarcastically.
Over the last six months, many people have spewed a variety of theories. Those theories have ranged from the “REAL” Covid-19 facts to the real reason George Floyd was murdered. There have been theories that say Dr. Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates are the ones behind the Coronavirus to Derek Chauvin, the cop who put his knee on Floyd, not even being an actual cop. These posts make unsubstantiated claims and have no proof of being true. But as soon as they are posted, the floodgates open to a world of fake information.
“Because they don’t fact check it and it just goes viral so fast, it’s done its damage,” said Montague. “So even if it is verified to be wrong later, it already went out incorrectly and that’s what spiraled out, not the corrected version.”
With all the tensions across the country Montague believes these types of posts feed into anxiety that spreads across the population.
“We are in such unprecedented times of uncertainty and when you don’t know what’s going to happen next, or when the chaos you’re in is going to end. When you don’t have control, you start grasping at things to try to make sense,” said Montague. “So, we look for things that we may agree with whether it be political or scientific, we try to hold on to them.”
The misinformation on Facebook can appear to be real, as Montague mentioned, but it can turn out to be fake or a doctored image. She suggested people don’t seek out the truth because they’re afraid to be proven wrong. In the same token, the leading scientists in various fields are discredited by the same group of people who share the fake information.
“They [scientists] were making decisions based on the best information they had at the time and as more information gets added to the research, sometimes the outcomes may change,” said Montague. “That’s part of what science is; experimenting, planning, making your best judgment, continuing your research, and updating that as you get more information.”
The trials and errors in research don’t make scientists wrong, it’s a part of the scientific research.
“It’s not like ‘Well, you were wrong before, see I never have to listen to you.’ That’s not how good science should work,” said Montague. “When people are making these claims and they have no background and they don’t check their sources, that’s really frustrating because everyone has their own soapbox… there’s just so much misinformation out there and people don’t take the time to check it.”
Recently, Twitter has flagged President Trump for some of his tweets that spread misinformation or those that make unsubstantiated claims. While this is completely legal because Twitter is a private entity that can take down posts as they please, Montague says that this is a tough line to tow because the post is harmful, making false claims can be harmful as well.
“Theoretically, more speech should be better than no speech if indeed those in the marketplace of ideas were considered thoroughly,” said Montague. “But that’s not what’s happened over the last few years. Truth does not end up being the victor. It gets distorted and it’s not the truth anymore.”
The line between free speech and harmful speech is being tested due to the mass amount of fake information there is in our society.
“That’s why I wish there wouldn’t have to be any censorship but because misinformation is getting out there and disinformation, misinformation that is intentionally designed to deceive is getting out there in bulk and people are acting on that, then it’s beyond the speech,” said Montague.
Here are a few suggestions on sources for fact-checking: