Posted on: February 26, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Emily Stephens

Growing up as part of Gen Z, most news I’ve been exposed to has come from social media sites. Sure, there might have been a logo in the corner of the video showing it was from ABC, CNN or The New York Times, but if it weren’t for Twitter and Instagram, I wouldn’t have heard about the news at all. 

I would find myself paying more attention to, say, someone’s caption of the media than where the media came from. The messaging over the information. I would pass the post along without questioning it, which at the time was irresponsible.

But, today passing information like that can be downright dangerous. What if the video I spread, the people on screen, aren’t even real? 

AI software now has the ability to emulate news coverage using robots. Social media analytics firm Graphika reported an instance of this in 2022, when a pro-Chinese propaganda video with realistic-looking news anchors was generated by Synthesia AI and spread on Twitter.

Juan Carbajal

Opinion Editor

In an age of perpetual online misinformation, this ability to fake the real makes media literacy–being able to identify reliable sources and acknowledge biases–more essential than ever.

“There’s a fundamental connection with being informed and having strength in your democracy,” said Moraine Valley political science professor Kevin Navratil.

We need to be correctly informed, as well as spread accurate information. So are we better off accepting that the news is all biased, reactionary, and sensationalized? That misinformation is growing and information is doomed? Do we delete our apps, ignore everything, and hope for the best? 

No. The response to reactionary misinformation spreading isn’t being avoidant or cynical. It’s to make sure we have the right tools to spot misinformation that comes our way, no matter how advanced the technology, or how powerful the source.

Examine your emotions

“Before you share something, it’s worth stopping for a minute, doing something to ask yourself why are you even sharing it,” says Tish Hayes, a Moraine librarian who specializes in digital literacy.

By taking this approach, you can analyze information in a clearer mental space, then think about what kind of reaction a source wants from you, and what is the motive behind that.

“If it gets you so fired up, things that can make you feel uber-patriotic, you may need to take a deeper breath and ask the deeper questions,” says Navratil.

With China already using this AI technology, it’s sensible to be skeptical of unknown accounts and media posting suspicious coverage involving their situation with Taiwan, especially if the issue escalates. For other geopolitical relations and conflicts, misinformation using similar technology and tactics regarding the Russia-Ukraine war could also start showing up.

Take a minute to check

If a media source looks suspicious, some simple Google searches can find you answers fast.  

“One of the things that I talk about in my classes is the usage of this thing called lateral reading,” Hayes said. “It’s suggesting opening up another tab, checking another source and looking to see if they match up.”

Away from the computer, it can also be helpful to talk to people you know. If you think someone is being brainwashed by something they read online, have a conversation with them and ask them why they believe what they read. Then discuss the source of the information and decide whether there’s any bias in it. These conversations can be a healthy way to foster civil debate.

“One of the key ways to fight this misinformation is to do it on a level of talking to friends and family,” Navratil said. “We have to remember we all have a role here, to make sure that I’m sharing and discussing the right information, especially on a local, smaller level.”

There’s a fundamental connection with being informed and having strength in your democracy.”

Kevin Navratil, MV political science professor

And online, discussing the right information includes checking who’s involved in the story and doing more digging. In the context of  a journalistic piece, a reader or viewer should be “checking the basic credentials” of the people involved in a piece, according to Hayes. This way we don’t get conned by phony reporters or non-experts presenting information in a professional manner. 

Growing up, I remember being told that we live in the information era. As an adult, I now realize the opposite is true: We live in the misinformation era, the era of trust being bigger than truth. We tend to want to fit inside of our ideological bubbles and trust those who conform to the beliefs we were fed while growing up. We love to oppose contrasting points of view. And the Internet has provided the perfect climate–millions of separate comment threads and posts–to breed one-sided conformity.

Thankfully, we can educate ourselves by using techniques to quell wave after wave of fake news and AI-generated controversies by asking ourselves: Is it reliable? Is it real? Is it accurate?

Our generation’s trust in institutions gets stronger by us being more literate and using the proper tools, so that we don’t either just believe everything we see or throw up our hands and feel too jaded, hopeless and skeptical to believe at all. Using what we know about finding truth, we can find legitimacy in chaos.