Putting the Toolkit into Action: Some Tips!
It’s important to know what someone’s intending when they post a piece of information so you know what they’re trying to get you to do—whether that might be buying a product, voting for a political candidate, or taking one kind of medication over another. The intention may not be coming from the person who is sharing it with you—it may be coming from someone else who convinced the person you know to share it.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, dis/misinformation can look like unfounded claims regarding things like ivermectin being effective for treating COVID-19 (see our reporting on this and why this is not true). But it can also look like disinformation meant to scare you about the vaccines, what they do to your body, and how they work. So, let’s look a bit more at how we can cut through all the noise and get to the facts so you can make informed decisions for yourself! Starting with looking at the images that might accompany a post.
Take a general look at any pictures (or videos) in a social media post or news story. Is the information showcased trying to inform you about something? Is it trying to persuade you to do something? In terms of dis/misinformation about the vaccine, you might have seen posts with images meant to instill fear, anger, or some other strong emotion that overrides any other kind of reaction you might have when looking at that post. These are appeals to emotion that are meant to drown out any kind of logical engagement, such as checking whether a claim is true and if the information being shared has been confirmed or checked.
Emotional appeals are often a Trojan Horse for mis/disinformation, because they often can be a way to sneak in prejudices and biases before you can critically examine the content. This approach isn’t always used to trick people, though! Think about when someone might have had something terrible happen to them, and they use a heartbreaking image of the situation to appeal to others’ empathy. Those are moments where we feel bad for others, but even then, you should pay attention to the cause, what the money is being used for, and what that person is actually dealing with beyond what’s shown in the image. So, when you’re looking at a post, check to see if there are images associated with the post. If there are, ask yourself this simple question: What purpose do they serve?
Take a look at the pictures and think about what is being shown. If there are people, what kind of faces are they making, and how does that match the information in the post? What is happening around the people? If there are needles or other medical items, why are they being shown?
Take, for example, a post someone might have shared about children being vaccinated. The image might depict scared children, as if they’re in danger, in a post talking about the vaccine’s safety. But, when you click on the post, you might read that the risk for bad side effects from the vaccines is extremely low (check out our coverage on that here). But even before you’ve clicked on the post, your mind is already processing a child in danger, which affects your first impression about the information being shared—the picture is using your empathy for children against you. In other examples, you might see a prominent figure, such as a politician or celebrity, along with a headline detailing a claim that person might have made—for better or worse.
Depending on the type of image being used (such as if the person is being shown in a less-than-flattering light), then whatever you might read from that person is impacted by the visual of that person.