How to separate the good from the bad information online
The Internet is a vast ocean of knowledge, which often seems to overwhelm us with incessant flows of data, news and above all opinions.
This overabundance of information can be a valuable asset if used correctly, but it can also prove to be a double-edged sword if you don’t have the tools necessary to discern between reliable sources and misleading or distorted information.
In the past, the authorities, supported by the press, were the only channel for disseminating news, and the citizen was a mere recipient.
Fortunately – because it is one of the great fortunes of our society – the information panorama has expanded over the years, and communication has gone from a position of unidirectional verticality (in jargon called: one to many, or from one to many) to a position of bidirectional horizontality (many to many), in which each individual can become both sender and recipient of information.
This valuable change has expanded the diversity of viewpoints, democratizing access to information and allowing previously silent voices to be heard. Inevitably, it has also made it more difficult for the few central entities to control narratives.
The great change, however, was completed by the arrival of the Internet and the increasingly pervasive role of social networks, which contributed more than any other innovation to making anyone, without distinction, a potential communicator.
The transition towards many to many communication, characterized by the active participation and sharing of contents by a multitude of individuals, has highlighted the need to develop critical skills in analyzing and evaluating, from time to time, the information found online. This is because the potential of digital channels is not always a guarantee of reliability, and therefore it is necessary to carefully examine the characteristics that distinguish the quality of each content.
One of the essential elements of good information is the source from which the news comes. The reputation and experience of those providing the information are in fact essential criteria for establishing their reliability.
Reliable sources, for example, are often organizations with a strong track record of accuracy and objectivity, as well as recognized experts in the relevant field.
Good information is based on solid and verifiable facts, and this means that the claims and declarations presented must be supported by objective data, scientific studies or primary sources, all reported with transparency. This rigorous approach to fact-checking is essential to avoid the spread of inaccurate news or, even worse, fake news, a click-bait phenomenon that has been widespread in recent years.
Another crucial aspect of good information is the ability to consider and seek different perspectives on a given topic. This behavior avoids the promotion of a single vision and favors a more complete and objective understanding of the issue at hand.
Finally, reliable sources should always take into account divergent opinions and points of view, encouraging critical thinking and thoughtful analysis.
Handbook of communication, online and beyond: good information avoids sensationalism. This means that reliable sources do not try to attract attention with exaggerated headlines or excessive emphasis on emotional and controversial aspects of the topic covered. The goal is always only to provide accurate and balanced information, without manipulating emotions or distorting reality.
The phenomenon of the spread of false or inaccurate information is an increasingly pervasive problem in contemporary society, and sees its maximum expression within social networks. Therefore, to address this challenge which often affects not only the single individual but entire communities, it is essential to promote systematic media literacy among the population.
In this mission, educational institutions play a fundamental role, organizing educational programs and targeted awareness campaigns, aimed at providing people with the skills necessary to distinguish reliable sources from misleading information.
Digital platforms, in turn, have a crucial responsibility in combating misinformation online. In fact, they should actively work to limit the spread of false or harmful content through the use of algorithms and filters that recognize and reduce the visibility of suspicious content. Furthermore, they should actively collaborate with organizations specialized in fact-checking to identify and remove misleading content (much has already been done, but there is still great room for improvement).
However, any attempt would be in vain without the active participation of users: in the battle against bad information online, each of us has the responsibility to be aware of our online interactions – whether private or work – and to share only verified and reliable information.
Educating oneself and others on the importance of critical evaluation of sources is in fact an essential step in maintaining a reliable but above all healthy online communication environment.