Panayiota Kendeou knows a thing or two about misinformation.

Kendeou, a professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, specializes in identifying, researching and implementing strategies that reduce the impact of misinformation.

She is also a co-author of The Debunking Handbook 2020, a 19-page guide developed by a team of academics to help news consumers identify, avoid and fight back against misinformation.

With misinformation expected to heat up as Election Day approaches — and potentially even after results come in — she offered three tips to avoid falling victim yourself. 


Check Your Sources

Kendeou said new consumers’ first step should always be to examine where the article, meme or whatever piece of content originally came from. 

When misinformation is shared on the Internet, particularly through social media, she said it can often be funneled through several people or sources. 

But the work doesn’t end there. She said after knowing where the information began, it’s imperative to be informed enough to know whether that source is credible, whether they have trafficked in misinformation previously or whether they have a bias or specific point of view. 

“You should ask yourself if you know the political leaning so the source or who was the journalist (who wrote it),” she said. 

Check How Your Respond to the Information

Kendeou said misinformation or disinformation that is specifically designed to mislead typically seeks to evoke a strong emotional response from its audience. 

That’s why, she said, it’s a good reminder to be aware when something you are reading makes you feel outraged, thrilled, scared or another strong emotion.

“If it evokes a positive emotion, it’s probably because it validates something you already believe strongly,” she said. “And if it’s negative, it’s probably because it is something challenging your beliefs. In both cases, you should take a step back and really ask yourself why you are having a very strong reaction to this information.”

Headlines, in particular, she said can be crafted in ways that play into these emotions. 

“We know that about 70% of what people share is based on their reading and their initial reaction to the headline, without even reading the content of the article,” she said. “So understanding what our individual motives are and realizing personal and individual responsibility, is really important.”

Know You Are Not Immune

One of the reasons misinformation or disinformation continues to be shared at such a rapid pace, Kendeou said, is because a lot of people are under the false impression they would never fall victim or share misleading or false information. 

Kendeou said this is not always the case. That’s because this type of content is designed and often packaged or distributed in a way that is made to trick people. 

“You don’t even have to be ill-intended,” she said. “Anyone can fall victim to misinformation and we are all susceptible to it, and that’s why if we are not sure of the truthfulness of the information, we shouldn’t be sharing it.”


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