Misinformation, Disinformation, False information, Lies, whatever you want to call it is essentially the same thing, spreading information that is not true as though it were. Since 2016 and the election of Donald Trump we have seen considerably more examples of “fake news” conspiracy theories and misinformation, in part because groups which promote these conspiracy theories were supported or emboldened by Trump, and in part because there were more theories to spread and more demographics to spread them to. Misinformation has always been an issue, as long as we have existed in a society, sometimes it has been weaponized, It has been used more than once by the US government to create fear towards certain groups in order to push policy or justify controversial actions. But the spread of misinformation has certainly increased as more people have joined different social media platforms, because anyone can say anything they want and post anything they want on social media, and no one will fact check them. If they are fact checked by another person on social media one would need to fact check that fact check, and most of them won’t be censored by the platform itself because people who spread these conspiracy theories bring in a lot of traffic to their platforms.
I do want to mention, however, that the spread of more accurate information has also begun to increase as more people use social media, because people who have never had an outlet now have one. For example, the field of medicine is not an exact science, it is built upon from years of experience and centuries of research and experimentation, however, when the research the field of medicine is built upon is shaky than it can be problematic. For example, many doctors believe that Black people do not feel pain or have a higher tolerance for pain, and this informs how they treat Black patients. according to one study by the PNAS A considerable amount of medical students and residents believed that Black had thicker skin than white people, less sensitive nerve endings, aged slower, and other false beliefs, (I will link to the study). This is information that can quickly be corrected by other doctors online, and infact many Black doctors and nurses have taken to social media sites like tik tok and instagram to correct this misinformation, something that wouldn’t be possible without the social media platforms
Another example is autism. Autism and ADHD in adults, especially adults who do not identify as male and among people of color, goes widely undiagnosed for a number of reasons including but not limited to the fact that the majority of autism research has been done on adolescent, white, males, the fact that autism evaluations can be extremely costly, or the fact that doctors don’t actually learn that much about autism. Very little about autism and ADHD is taught, and accurate information about these two neurotypes can be difficult to find, but misinformation about them is easy to spread, so many autistic people and people with ADHD have used social media platforms to share there experiences and correct the misinformation circulated in the medical field in order to improve the lives of others, and change the way people think about Neurology. So while I think social media has certainly contributed to the spread of misinformation, I think its also important to keep in mind that misinformation has always been around and many of the things we believe to be true are also examples of misinformation. Sometimes the people doing the fact checking don’t actually know what they’re talking about, and the belief that degree’s and credentials in the world of academia equate to expertise needs to be reevaluated.