There is no better time for critical thinking than now.
As the information from the horrific Boston Marathon bombings becomes more archival than organic, we are beginning to see the influence of network exchange—especially social network exchange—in the dissemination of information and misinformation alike with inexorable fluidity.
Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the social media posse are either lauded as champions or loathed as liquid vipers surreptitiously carving their respective information and toxins through our minds with each share or retweet. We can celebrate social sharing’s presence (idealistic humanism) for its role in public awareness or scorn it for its propensity to spread false ideas.
During this information-settling process, we know of at least eight deliberately doctored stories, videos, and images that have gone viral through social media. Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab chronicled a few of these known fallacies, as well as a few case studies where false information permeated public awareness following similar, previous events. However, unlike the sprawl of misinformation in the past, today’s misinformation circulates far more rapidly and with a fervor not seen before. Under the auspices of social media, these pieces of misinformation diffuse malformed claims through the human knowledge bank much like any virus jumps from cell to cell. But these deceptive claims grounded in dubious information are framed for much larger inferences, which is where share features can become dangerous. Unabated sharing of unfounded or malfeasant information in the absence of a skeptical process only propagates the problem, yielding a new species of pseudo-truth that influences the beliefs of thousands or more.
The what we know juxtaposed with the what we think we know is both funny and frightening. Thanks to Hilary Sargent (aka Chartgirl), we see an awesome representation of how misinformation flows from the known to the what we think we know paradox. This paradox becomes the foundation for a larger battle: the narrative of authority versus the authority of narrative. In the absence of critical reasoning, only one can win.
The burden of responsibility in truth-seeking ultimately falls upon us. We must examine the information we share for validity. We must learn to scrutinize the sources of the information and construct our judgments accordingly, and we must become healthy skeptics of what we read, ingest, and share.