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America, it's a day before a crucial election and we're full of trash information and online vitriol. It comes from strangers on the internet, scammers on our text messaging, disreputable news organizations, and even our friends and family.
Whitney Phillips, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Public Speaking Studies at Syracuse University and author of Tainted Information, says all of these mess up our brains.
When the US elections produced misleading information and the constant political discussions on the internet wore down many of us, I spoke to her about how we can fight back individually and collectively. Here are edited excerpts from our discussion:
You wrote that Angry online conversations and misleading information essentially short-circuit our brains. As?
When our brains are overloaded and we are constantly confronted with disturbing or confusing information, we end up in a state in which we are less able to process information. We say things we probably shouldn't. People are happily retweeted. It is not productive even when people have good intentions and believe that they will help.
How do we stop this process?
I have researched how mindfulness meditation processes can help us navigate this hellish landscape of information. If you see or read something that triggers this emotional reaction, take a moment to breathe and try to create some emotional space. This does not mean that you shouldn't be critical of what you think, but that you should first think about the most constructive of what you should do next.
However, we do not tend to believe that we are acting irresponsibly or irrationally. We think that the people who disagree with us are irrational and irresponsible.
Most people think that if they don't want to do harm or have hatred in their hearts, they don't have to think about what to do. But even if we are not malicious ourselves, we are basically still a part of what information is spreading and how.
We all influence the ecology around us. Bad actors like high-profile influencers can scar the country, but so can everyone else. The more information pollution there is in the landscape, the less our democracy works. When you feel like everything is terrible and everyone is lying, people don't want to have a bourgeois discourse.
This brings with it a lot of personal responsibility for a problem that is much bigger than we as individuals.
Yes, individual solutions are not enough. We can all make better decisions, but that doesn't mean anything unless we also think about structural, systemic reasons why we are forced to confront bad information in the first place.
What are these structural forces? What can be done to improve the information environment on a structural level?
To understand how bad information travels, we need to think about all of the forces that contributed to it – decisions made by internet platforms, broader capitalist forces, local and national influences. And it includes you. All of them feed into one another.
Part of the problem is that people haven't understood how social media company information or recommendation algorithms work that affects why we see what we do online. When people understand, they can imagine another world and fight to change the system.
I am tempted to disconnect the internet and go live in a cave. Should I?
We need to find a way to balance evacuating from the hurricane and walking towards the hurricane. If we just evacuate, we are not doing our part as citizens and we are forcing the people on the information front to shoulder this burden. If we just run towards the storm, we'll burn out.
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Tip of the week
Beware of the wrong meme
As Whitney Phillips said, we all have a role to play in reducing the spread of garbage information. Brian X. Chen, a consumer technology columnist for the New York Times, tells us how to avoid the particularly nefarious false or misleading meme:
Misinformation comes in many forms, but one big culprit to watch out for this election season is the meme, which is usually a photo or screenshot, overlaid with text.
Memes are dangerous because it only takes a few seconds for someone to create one and share it on social media. And it's easy to edit pictures and pull quotes out of context.
So think twice before sharing a meme again – and if in doubt, check the source. A quick way to do this is to investigate the origins of an image using the reverse image search tool on Google.
Here's how: On Google.com, click Images in the right corner of the page and upload the photo, or paste the photo's web address into the search bar. This shows where else the picture appeared on the web. This way you can check if the one you see has been tampered with.
Also, keep these three questions in mind as you scroll through news articles and social media posts related to the election:
Mindfulness will be one of our best weapons against the spread of misinformation in this election.
"Rule # 1 is: slow down, pause, and ask yourself," Am I sure enough that I should share? "Peter Adams, senior vice president of the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit media education organization, told me." If everyone did that, we would see a dramatic reduction in online misinformation. "
Before we go …
Holding back the deluge of misinformation: My colleagues write about what Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are doing during and after Election Day – like banning political ads or announcing that no presidential winner has been selected until the results are verified – to help curb election-related falsehoods and highlight accurate and helpful information .
Counterpoint: Fears of misinformation are exaggerated: Slate writes that while false or misleading information can cement existing political and social differences, there is not much evidence that it influences voter attitudes or behavior. Instead, it is said that people's beliefs and choices in elections are largely shaped by their social identity in terms of race and class, gender, geographic location, and religion.
Career Development in 60 Second Video Bites: Career coaches provide advice on résumé writing, job hunting, and more on TikTok. Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu writes for The Times that this is an inexpensive and easily accessible alternative to the often expensive consulting services.
Newborns in the intensive care unit of the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia wore Halloween costumes as Apollo Creed from the "Rocky" films, a subway sandwich and a little pig in a blanket. The hospital said it organized this to give the families a moment of normalcy.
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