Monday, April 16, 2018

Parsing Information on the Internet - What's true and what's not

Credit - The Inquirer (philly.com)
There is a LOT of information floating around on the internet these days. With more and more exposure to this information and increasing integration of normal people like you and me with digital media, it is very easy to be misled by random chunks of information floating around through FB pages, WhatsApp groups or blogs/pseudo-news sites. An example is how Cambridge Analytica purportedly used personal information from FB to influence the US electoral process by bombarding propaganda at targeted demographics. While the jury is out on this one, what is clear is that it has become very easy to mislead the normal public and very easy to make/build opinions in the digital age. We simply cannot control what information we are bombarded with, but we can definitely control how we react to that information and how we let it influence us. With that in mind, here's a few simple things that all of us can take care of when digesting information floating on the internet - 
  1. Avoid trusting a quote or a statement unless the source is quoted along with additional details on said quote or statement. For eg - "we've found out from reliable sources in the ministry that. . ." might not be genuine. On the other hand, "in his statement to the press dated dd/mm/yy, so and so clarified that . . ." is a more reliable statement because you can check for that press interaction. 
  2. Avoid trusting a number or statistic unless there's a citation. A citation will always have the source of the data and a contact where you can validate that data. It can also be a link to an online survey, but then you have to take online survey statistics with a pinch of salt. In either scenario, with a citation, (at the very least) you'll know where a number is coming from. For eg - a random statement like "65% youth unemployed" is a bogus statement. On the other hand, "Unemployment rate for Mar-18 in India stands at 3.46% according to the latest set of data released by ILO (International Labor Organization) published on tradingeconomics.com" is a more trust-worthy statement. 
  3. Avoid trusting random WhatsApp posts, random FB pages unless their provenance is verified. A good way to assess this if you can contact the admin. As Mr Weasley tells Ginny, "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain". If you can't contact admin on an FB page or forward is anonymous and random; more often than not, it will be untrustworthy.
  4. Avoid digesting information without proper numbers/statistics to back it up. A reputed news house or information outlet will adhere to points 1 and 2 above so that you can assess the authenticity of the information you are being served. 
  5. Always know the political leanings of the media house which you are reading / watching news from. Most media houses have some political leaning so you can gauge and assess for yourself what level of slant they bring in and in which direction it is. Most print media is anti-establishment (for eg the daily paper "Sakal" is owned by Mr Pawar) whereas a higher proportion of digital media has leanings towards the establishment (eg - swarajyamag.com). You can find out similar information about TV channels as well. NDTV has a bias against the establishment whereas Republic TV is more pro-establishment. 
As educated citizens of India, it is our duty to think rationally and critically about what we read on the internet, build opinions after due diligence and express our own opinions carefully. Let's be safe out there!