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Fact vs. Fiction: Learning How to Spot Misinformation on the Internet

Fact vs. Fiction: Learning How to Spot Misinformation on the Internet

Those who spend a lot of time online have most likely been bombarded by information. Sometimes it comes from social media that have been shared by friends and family. Often you see people discussing something on a podcast or blog. Talking is the best way to raise awareness of many topics that are often stigmatized, such as mental health disorders. The voices of those that need the most help are often carried to those that can help them. This is perhaps why the internet is so important to our culture.

However, for every fact, there is a lie. Unfortunately, the ability to spread information positively can also spread misinformation. This can be very dangerous, as these lies often become beliefs. Beliefs are very difficult to change. When misinformation becomes widespread, it can become nearly impossible to remove from our culture. This doesn’t just impact individuals, but the health of our society as a whole.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when looking at articles on the internet.

Are They Looking to Sell You Something?

Sometimes an easy way to tell if some information isn’t factual is to look and see if there is a sales pitch attached. More often than not, people will spread lies to sell a product. An example of this is when Andrew Wakefield published articles claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism. This was so that he could discredit the MMR vaccines and sell his type of vaccines and testing kits. Even though the fraud has been discovered, it has caused irreparable damage to many children everywhere and continues today.

Many times you may read an article and see an advertisement attached for a miracle cure. These ads promise quick and easy results but never offer any concrete evidence of their claims. This is especially true for severe mental health disorders that take time and can be difficult to treat, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

A valid medical article will discuss a treatment method in length. It will also encourage the reader to discuss it with their doctor. They will never ask for money upfront or demand you immediately buy a product before speaking with a professional first. A proper article will encourage someone to seek treatment to benefit themselves, never to earn a profit.

Does the Article Come From a Valid Internet Source?

It’s easy to write and publish articles. Anyone who has the money for web hosting can host their website and publish whatever they please. However, there are specific websites out there that are universally declared to be “safe” to both readers and sources. A major source is those that have “.gov” and “.edu” in the URL. 

A .gov URL means that this website is maintained by the U.S. government. One such site is the National Library of Medicine, a website that collects and links official medical articles available to the public. This website also features links to other article sites that are considered safe as well. 

The National Institute of Mental Health is another great source, as it routinely publishes the latest news in terms of mental health medicine. These are all from credited sources and directly linked to the facilities that made them. 

Websites URLs ending in .edu are academic institutions and post-secondary education sites that are accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. These institutions usually run medical studies that can be sourced in papers.

An article that has no citations to anything at all is usually not to be trusted. A valid article about mental health will usually have supporting links to studies that directly relate to the article in question. If there are no sources to be found, it is usually not to be trusted.

Internet Screenshots Should Not Be Taken at Face Value

It’s quite common nowadays to log into Facebook and immediately be met by a blurry screenshot of an article that is being passed around. Sometimes you can barely read what it says, but people will pass it along as pure fact. You should never just take a screenshot as factual. 

It is quite easy to manipulate photographs these days through the use of specific manipulation programs. If someone tries to give you a screenshot, ask them for a proper link. An article that can not be validated through a valid link is not to be trusted.

What Is the Goal of the Article?

Most articles can be summed up quite well after reading them. The majority is to pass on information, good or bad. Some are there to frighten you. Many are there to sell you something. You can usually tell by reading an article what it wants you to feel. A legitimate article usually seeks to bring awareness and hope to those that are struggling with a mental health disorder. It never seeks to dehumanize anyone and will always seek to bring awareness to the plight of other people. Articles that are looking to stigmatize people, sell something, or instill panic and fear are not articles to be trusted.

Some legitimate articles can be scary, especially when they talk about problems that society tends to ignore. For example, the rate of suicide among men in America is very high, but it’s rarely talked about. It can be a scary thing to read about it, especially if you have loved ones who are men or are a man yourself. However, if an article starts claiming that someone will harm themselves unless they buy a specific product – then it can be safely dismissed as false. That fear-mongering, and is a manipulation tactic. 

This is why it’s important to look at things you read with a critical mind, especially on the internet. Not everything that someone sends you is true, even if they believe it to be. The internet is a wild place, but you can stay safe.

With so much information on the internet, it can be hard to know who and what to trust. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we get our information from trusted sources. We keep up with the latest of medical breakthroughs to help our patients achieve long-lasting recovery. Our highly trained staff is standing by to answer questions about the mental health field. You and the ones you love deserve to have a trusted source of information that can help you make good decisions about your mental health. If you or someone you know has any questions about mental health disorders and how they are treated, call (949) 647-4090 today.

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