Unfortunately, there are many threats to democracy right now, some of which we may feel relatively powerless to address as individuals.
But there is one major threat that everyone has the capacity to resist as long as we take the time and have the right tools to help us: the threat of disinformation and misinformation. Fortunately, a new book from two leading academics has arrived to help us arm ourselves against deliberate attempts to sow distrust and isolate us from our own sense of what is real and what is not.
The book is “Verified: How to Think Straight, Be Less Fooled, and Make Better Decisions About What to Believe Online,” by Mike Caulfield and Sam Wineburg, newly published by the University of Chicago Press. Caulfield is a researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, where he studies how we can be deceived online and how we can develop coherent strategies to make sense of what we see online. Wineburg is a retired professor of education at Stanford University and a leading researcher in the field of digital literacy.
This is a book I’ve been waiting for a long time; For years I have been a proponent of Caulfield’s SIFT model for evaluating online information, a technique that is central to the recommendations and approaches in the “Verified” section.
SIFT means: Stop; Research the source; Find better coverage; and Trace claims, quotes, and media back to the original context.
The beauty of SIFT is that it does not require any specific subject matter expertise to judge the accuracy of a claim, and the key skill you need to develop is the “S” part of the method. Misinformation and disinformation often spread because they trigger a strong reflexive emotional response in the recipient upon first encounter. We get excited or angry, and when we feed on those emotions, we act without thinking about spreading bad information.
Once we train ourselves to pause in this response, we can move on to other steps. Researching the original source is often enough to further slow down our cycle when we realize the provocative information is unsourced or comes from something unusual. The last two steps allow us to find the origins of this information and often (though not always) provide a definitive answer about the accuracy and reliability of the original claim.
Caulfield’s method has been around in higher education for years, and I have used it to help hundreds of students evaluate and use information online. Pretty quickly the process becomes second nature and it’s like you’re wearing a shield protecting you from being fooled.
With “Verified,” Wineburg and Caulfield dig even deeper into SIFT, breaking down a number of common gestures used to signal authority but often mislead audiences. The use of numbers to “deflect” us and how to resist these attempts was particularly helpful to me.
The book also includes practical tips on using search engines (especially Google) and other public repositories that are in danger of being overrun with nonsense thanks to generative AI (like ChatGPT), making it easy to create plausible misinformation. surface level.
Evaluating ads, spotting fake videos, and how to find experts to trust are also covered in their own sections.
If you tend to throw up your hands and withdraw from the digital world because you can’t figure out what’s right and what’s wrong, the difficulty will increase even more, but at least you won’t be going into battle Unarmed thanks to “Verified” techniques.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Invisible Angers of the Heart” by John Boyne
2. “Doubtful” By Scott Turow
3. “Soulmate” By Sally Hepworth
4. “Between Two Strangers” By Kate White
5. “From the Clear Blue Sky” By Kristan Higgins
—Mary O., Chicago
I think Mary will enjoy the classic tale of mystery and intrigue that Patricia Highsmith delivers in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
1. “Evil Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver
2. “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in Trauma Healing” by Bessel van der Kolk
3. “Hello Beautiful” By Ann Napolitano
4. “Chemistry Lessons” By Bonnie Garmus
5. “Bright Young Women” By Jessica Knoll
—Linda P., Chicago
You really can’t go wrong with Barbara Pym, and Linda is perhaps on the right foot with her most beloved book, “Perfect Women.”
1. “Rebel Angels” By Robertson Davies
2. “Dr. NO” By Percival Everett
3. “Short Interviews with Disgusting Men” by David Foster Wallace
4. “Freedom” By Jonathan Franzen
5. “Conspiracy Against America” by Philip Roth
— Matthew N., Chicago
A reader tipped me off to a slightly weird and wonderful book that wasn’t on my radar called “My Search for Warren Harding” by Robert Plunket. Now I’m paying it forward to another reader who I think will connect with the book.
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