Our Growing Infodemic – Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog
We all know we’ve been through a pandemic. What is not widely realized is that we are also living through an infodemic.
Epidemiology is a branch of medical science that studies how diseases are transmitted and, therefore, can be controlled in a population. Infodemiology is a social science that studies how information is transmitted and, therefore, may need to be controlled.
In other words, an infodemic is similar to a pandemic.
Reading this, you might instantly feel an adverse reaction, which means that you don’t believe that information, such as a virus, should be controlled, filtered or verified.
And I share this visceral feeling.
Here is the challenge posed on the site of the World Health Organization:
As humans, we are a curious and innovative species. We want to understand the world around us and stay up to date on the challenges we face and how to overcome them. One of the ways we do this is by finding and sharing information – in large quantities. Even scientists around the world are working hard to keep up with the thousands of studies that have been published since the outbreak of COVID-19.
But it’s not just about scientific studies. There are also official communications from governments and health agencies around the world. Then there are news articles and opinion pieces, as well as posts from vloggers, bloggers, podcasters, and social media influencers. You may also see information shared by your friends and family on social media or messaging apps.
It’s all called the infodemic: a flood of information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Infodemiology is the study of this information and how to manage it.
And it’s not just pandemic-related information. It’s information about gun violence, racism, survivorship, and sexual abuse…it’s information about everything in today’s cultural discourse. The result of a lack of information management has led to the worst polarizations and politicizations, divisions and discords in recent history.
So, aside from the widely derided and quickly dismissed “Disinformation Governance Council,” what can be done at the individual level to protect against the contagious nature of the infodemic? In other words, if we don’t want it to be managed for us, how can it be managed by we?
Here are the seven most common suggestions:
1. Assess the source. Always start with who shared the information with you and where they or they got it from. Look for fake social media accounts, how long profiles have been active, number of followers, and most recent posts. For websites, see the “About Us” and “Contact Us” pages for general information. Verify the authenticity of images and videos (for example, using reverse image search tools provided by Google).
2. Go beyond the headlines. Remember that many titles (if not most) are designed as “clickbait”. Read more than the title, which may be designed to alarm or irritate. You may find – and often will – that the bulk of the story not only doesn’t support the title, but negates it. Also look for information more broadly than on social media. Look at print sources (newspapers, magazines) and digital sources (online news sites). The more you diversify your sources, the better you get a sense of what is trustworthy.
3. Identify the author. It’s simple: research the author’s name online to see if it’s believable, or even real.
4. Check the date. Why is this important? Because news is always developing. So ask yourself, “Is this a recent story? Is it up to date and relevant to current affairs? Was a title, image or statistic taken out of context? »
5. Review the supporting evidence. A truly believable story will back up their claims with facts. Look for quotes from experts or links to statistics and studies. Then check that these experts are reliable and that the links actually support the story.
6. Check your biases. Admit it, we everything having a prejudice. A prejudice, by definition, is “a mental tendency or inclination; bias; harm; bent.” Whatever your biases, it will affect how you interpret what’s happening in the world. So ask yourself, “Why am I drawn to this particular headline or story? Why did I react so strongly? Did it challenge my assumptions or tell me what I wanted to hear?” And perhaps most important of all, “What did I learned about myself from my interpretation or my reaction?
7. Use fact checkers. There are trusted fact-checking organizations that go beyond Snopes, such as the International Fact-Checking Network. There are also global news outlets that focus on debunking misinformation, such as the Associated Press and Reuters.
And if you are a follower of Christ, here are three more suggestions:
8. Compare and Contrast with Scripture. For the Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority and source of truth. Disinformation is not always about facts and figures, but rather about mindsets and values, beliefs and behaviors. As CS Lewis once wrote, you can’t call a crooked line unless you know what a straight line is. The Bible gives us the straight line on all things related to our faith.
9. Listen to your spiritual leaders. Your pastor is not infallible, but he has been placed in a position of authority over you as the spiritual leader of your church. Listen to them and carefully weigh what they say. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to make sense of their words.
10. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Anyone who knows the story of Solomon in the Old Testament knows that God was very, very happy that Solomon – when he could have asked for anything – asked for wisdom. It’s a request that God seems only too happy to grant. And in the midst of an infodemic,
… much needed.
James Emery White
Moises Velasquez-Manoff, “The New Frontier of the Anti-Vaccine Movement”, The New York TimesMay 25, 2022, read online.
“Flatten the Infodemic Curve,” World Health Organization, online reading.
“Disinformation Governance Council” of Wikipediaread online.
“Bias,” Webster’s New World Dictionary.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.