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How to Identify Credibility When Information is Constant

There is a constant stream of information in our lives today. We have devices that fit in the palm of our hands that have access to all the information in the world. And if we don’t have said device, there is certainly someone in our circle that does and openly shares this information, whether requested or not. How do we weed out the noxious misinformation? Is it possible to define credibility within constant change?

Facts & Opinions

During this difficult time, I feel this tug of war between trying to stay well informed and protecting myself against biased, unfounded opinion. My daughter requested to watch Inside Out the other day and I literally laughed out loud at the facts and opinions scene.

Joy: Oh no, these facts and opinions look so similar.

Bing Bong: Ah, don’t worry about it. Happens all the time.

There is part of me that wishes I could be as nonchalant as Bing Bong with the credibility of sources. That I could simply scoop up all the information along with the misinformation and just pile them together in a box and let it go. But I’ve seen the true harm that opinionated misinformation can cause. I’ve experienced, either personally or within my circle, trusting unreliable sources to lead to massive debt, physical harm and polarizing beliefs. And during a health crisis, the consequences of believing and spreading misinformation could be much worse.

Real Truth & Fake Truth

It was back in February when NPR aired a story about helping older adults learn to spot fake news and verify information with credibility that I was triggered to really think about how misinformation spreads so quickly. When the story quoted Patricia Cramer, 92, saying , “I’m going to question everything. Because we’ve been fooled a lot of times when we’re younger,” I had a realization that it was really my generation and younger that needed the support on how to spot and stop the spread of “fake news.” Or what I refer to as polarizing opinion and dangerous misinformation. It seemed too big of a topic to handle at the time.

And then mid-March I was reminded of this danger and need again when reading retired NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly’s opinion piece in The New York Times where he urges us to lean on credibility. In this article he gives tips on how to sustain and maintain during isolation. Lessons he had learned from his nearly year-long stay on the International Space Station.

“Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects, whether it was science, engineering, medicine, or the design of the incredibly complex space station that was keeping me alive.

Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. Social media and other poorly vetted sources can be transmitters of misinformation just as handshakes transmit viruses, so we have to make a point of seeking out reputable sources of facts…”

Who Am I?

After the topic seemed to be reoccurring in my life, I finally embraced that it was time for me to voice to my generation how do we define credibility. How do we protect ourselves and each other from further damage? But who I am to be this educator?

Well, first let me start by outlining my own credibility.

I graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism, a minor in English with an emphasis in Political Science in 2005. My coursework included advanced editing and news writing, photojournalism, multimedia editing and writing and mass media ethics and law. I worked as a crime beat and multicultural beat reporter for a semester and then a copy editor for another semester for, at the time, a Monday through Friday printed publication called the University Daily Kansan.

Now, granted, this experience and education lead me to not pursue a career in Journalism, but it did give me an extensive knowledge and understanding of reputable research and ethics. One that I took with me in my careers within the Printing & Publishing industry as well as the Health & Wellness industry. I continue to practice what I learned and integrate it within my everyday life.

Credibility Defined

So, here we are. Let’s start with how we spot a creditable source.

1.) Is the author named?

You can’t assume that all authors are creditable just because they are willing to publish their name, but it’s a start. If you can’t find who wrote it or who said it, it’s simply not creditable.

2.) Where is this information coming from?

This can get tricky within our online landscape. We share, we link, we paraphrase what we heard or read. It can sometimes take several clicks to find the actual source. And sometimes those clicks can lead to a virtual virus download. If the source isn’t outright stated, it is fair to assume that what happened upon your feed isn’t creditable.

3.) How old is the information?

Now you shouldn’t outright dismiss old information. There are ancient studies, practices and ideas that are absolutely still valid, valuable and creditable today.

During this year’s Women’s History Month, I found that Florence Nightingale’s writings on hospital and nursing practices remain in print and after learning more about how she pioneered proper hygiene it made perfect sense as to why.

But when it comes to current events, you should check the time, date stamp and do a little research to ensure the data or information is creditable, hasn’t been debunked or updated. Our hand-held devices make this fairly easy. A quick Google search will result in any conflicting, contradicting or validating sources out there.

Stop the Spread

It seems like every day we are learning new practices and procedures on how to stop the spread of a coronavirus. It can be scary and daunting to take on this constant change of information on top of confirming credibility.

However, I encourage you to find a way that you can embrace it from a place of positivity. It is amazing how much we are learning and how quickly. Our global online community absolutely makes this nimble learning possible. Lean into the science and the facts shared from creditable sources.

Stop and Think

This was advice from my husband the other day: Stop and think. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the emotion tied to what we share and consume online. Even if creditable and my intentions were good on sharing something online, perception is reality and we have no control how others may perceive the information we share.

So, every time before I push “share” or “post,” I take a moment to stop and think:

  • Is this creditable?
  • If it is my opinion, does it feel true, do I know someone it could help?
  • Personal? Is it authentically vulnerable?
  • Am I prepared to protect my heart?
  • Do I trust myself to be community-driven and open to other’s opinions and beliefs on this subject?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, I delete it and let go.

More often than not, I do end up pushing “post,” but I do it with the confidence that I’m not spreading misinformation because my action was mindful. I take my contribution to our worldwide access to information seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good #FridayFunny meme or #HumpDay pick-me-up and I especially appreciate all of the #MondayMotivation. However, I also shoulder the importance of protecting the integrity of our society, our words, our connection. For today, but also for our future.

Nikola Reinfelds

Nikola is a Kansas native that came to Northern Colorado by way of Long Island, NY. After running a successful business in NYC she's confident that the song lyric, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere" is the truth. However, she faltered big time through the unknowns and isolation of becoming a stay at home mom. She re-found her passion and confidence by helping others be obsessed with the skin they're in through her writing, community, leadership and friendship. Her other passions include being an exceptional partner to her husband, Hagen, a patient parent to her precious children, reading #allththings and getting out in nature as much as possible.

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