Qu: It’s Not a Millennial Vice

Millennials aren’t more susceptible to misinformation than their elders.

by Dorothy Qu | 1/13/17 12:15am

Did you know that three out of ten millennials do not know who Josef Stalin was? Or that only two out of ten recognize the name Mao Zedong? It is these sorts of horrific statistics that give shame to America and its next generation. And these are not due to the blatant ignorance of these 18 to 34 year-olds, but rather because those first two things I said were completely false. I just made them up.

Now, some of you who may have believed or appreciated those initial falsities may defend yourselves by citing the “believability” of those figures. Or, even more boldly, you may argue that whether I was truthful or not does not matter, as the fact that it’s “believable” says enough about whatever statistics you were presented with.

Anyone with even the slightest background in college math may very well become physically ill if he or she perused under the thin layer of respectable sources. Every time I see the title “Survey shows: something ridiculous,” I cannot help but wonder whether any statisticians were harmed in the production of such unempirical studies. There, bubbling closely under the surface, lies a great, formidable danger to our modern society: fake news.

Especially during this past election season, fake news has often overshadowed its more truthful counterparts. The sensationalism, after all, is hard to resist for some trigger-happy Facebook sharers. And I’m sure that you have all heard the phrase “echo chamber” too frequently these past few months. To approach these chambers and return uninjured and to improve that chamber in some way is a difficult task to accomplish. Fake news contributes to the solidarity of these in-groups. As a result, when outsiders respond with facts that may ruin their manifestos, these groups tend to further reject fact-checking and become even more deeply buried within their spheres.

Although a number of sources are consistently trustworthy, the amount of truthful content varies in most others. However, tone is a good indicator of the proportion of opinion to fact in a piece. If they use strong, insulting language and a casual tone you should consider branching out to neutral or contradictory sources. Without a wide array of opinions, you may not have the necessary resources to form your own, so you simply resort to repeating information you’ve absorbed. Authors may also cherry-pick, using information that support their case while conveniently ignoring disagreeable but vital information.

Finding any sort of solution — long-term or short-term, macro or micro — to this newly proliferating problem flummoxes me. Fact-checking does not seem to help but instead only further alienates “outsiders” from the in-group of those who believe a certain branch of fake news. Fact-checking may also come off as pretentious, especially when responses are drafted as if an English professor were breathing down the commentator’s neck, widening the rift between those who have a college degree or enjoy academia and those who do not. The only viable way to execute the delicate task of informing without offending is to ignore those you do not know and privately message or converse with friends.

It will be a long and arduous process. But peer, reader or stranger, I believe in you. For a minute (or two), I too believed that the Great Barrier Reef had died when I saw the headlines several weeks ago. All it takes is humility and an investigative spirit to battle fake news. Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion. However, you are not entitled to your own facts. That belongs to science, academia and reality. Leave the fake news to ClickHole.