The world faces a crisis of truth.
It erodes institutions, turns neighbors on neighbors, and weakens societal bonds. It’s the single most pernicious threat we face because it doesn’t express itself directly. Instead, it exacerbates existing problems, festering doubt and mistrust. Nearly every calamity and social ill we suffer is influenced by our crisis of truth.
Climate change is the most significant threat this planet has ever faced, and the science overwhelmingly supports this conclusion, and yet you can find plenty of claims to the contrary. At the time of writing, COVID-19 has killed 1.6 million people worldwide, and yet politicians downplay the impact because the reality isn’t politically expedient. Everywhere you look, people are taking advantage of the credulity of others to push an agenda or distort perception.
It’s often hard to know what to believe. What’s certain is that we live in unprecedented times. People around the world have instant access to more information than at any other point in human history. The unfortunate flip side to this information explosion is the widespread proliferation of misinformation and disinformation that competes with the facts for our attention.
This glut of bad data comingling with, and often supplanting reality is causing a crisis of truth around the world. It’s becoming increasingly harder to separate fact from fiction as the echo chambers we form on social media reinforce whatever we feed them, whether good or bad.
So what’s a responsible, thinking person to do? How can we find real, meaningful, revealing truth in a polarized world where up is down, night is day, and everything you read might be trying to misguide you? It takes dedication, vigilance, and critical thinking.
Stop, Think, and Check Your Facts
One of the most powerful steps you can take in the fight against bad information is to become a human blockade. No matter how convincing a meme might seem, and regardless of how well an argument seems to support your position, refuse to forward it on to your social circles without first fact-checking its claims.
Nearly every country has its own fact-checking resources, and you can find websites in almost every language. Some of the most popular include Snopes, FactCheck.org, AFP Fact Check, Full Fact, and PolitiFact. Wikipedia maintains a list of fact-checking websites around the world.
The Poynter Institute, the world’s leading school for journalism, has established the International Fact-Checking Network, which developed a collection of operating principles for responsible fact-checkers. They also maintain fact-checker signatories that have dedicated themselves to the proper exercise of IFCN principles.
Using an unbiased fact-checking service before forwarding information over social channels accomplishes two things. One, it blocks one node in the web of disinformation spread. Two, it provides you the facts to debunk the bad information. When you see it in the future, you can add a correction, which spreads facts in the face of fiction.
We Can Find Truth Together
Yes, you’re just one person. But when you dedicate yourself to the truth, it spreads. One person becomes two, which becomes ten, which becomes a movement. We need to decide, individually and as a group, that we won’t accept accidental misinformation or intentional disinformation ruining public discourse.
The facts are the facts. When you focus on them and ignore the spin, the truth will shine, blotting out the wasteland of pop culture guru, pseudo-expert, wishful thinking, charlatans. There is hope. We can see the world as it is if we work together.