Spotting misinformation: What to know and how to find credible information

Posted at 1:56 PM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-22 13:34:46-05

BOISE, Idaho — Misinformation is a word that has been used a lot recently and is defined as "to give incorrect or misleading information or to wrongly inform someone."

We hear this word especially when it comes to politics, the election, COVID-19, social media and numerous other subjects.

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out for younger children, the government is doing more to address misinformation. The US Surgeon General released a toolkit this week with resources to help people talk to friends and family who may be spreading false health information.

It includes points like listening to the person, empathizing, pointing them to credible sources and not publicly shaming them. Psychologists believe this inner circle approach helps somebody not feel judged or ashamed.

"One other thing that can be really helpful when you're talking to friends or family members about information or misinformation is to try to connect with why particular information is believable
for somebody and get to what the source of the concern might be," said Lynn Bufka, Ph.D., American Psychologist Association.

In the hours after the Boise Towne Square shooting, the post below started circulating on Facebook and was found to be false.

Misinformation is used intentionally to mislead, but could gravitating to it be a natural human response? The need to find that information can be dangerous.

"A lot of us look for information when something like this happens and there is a lot of unknowns. A lot of really good questions and sometimes not really good or accessible answers, we go out and seek information," said Matt Niece, director of counseling services at Boise State University. "It's also kind of prime time for us to grab whatever information is available, whether it's accurate or not, and sort of run with it because we want to have some kind of understanding about the event.

That's why you will often hear journalists say that early reports are most often wrong. Here are some ways to not fall for misinformation:

  • Look to official sources like local news outlets, the local police department and the city government for information.
  • Are you able to verify these people were at the location or do you know with certainty that the information they are saying is true?
  • Are there facts from verifiable sources to back up the claims being made?

These are the questions that we as journalists must answer to spot misinformation when searching for the truth, and tips you can use to spot misinformation.