How to Fight “Information Pollution”

In this age of polarisation, disinformation and fake news, never before has it been so important that we carefully and thoughtfully evaluate the information we consume before we share it. I think of it as fighting “information pollution”. Much like how we as individuals can fight pollution in the natural environment by shopping with care, conserving water, recycling, etc., we can apply a similar principle to help preserve the health of the information environment. We do this by ensuring that what we share has integrity, is truthful, and perhaps most importantly, isn’t turning us into unwitting agents of some nefarious agenda.

For instance, before posting content on social media, we might, for due diligence purposes, ask ourselves a series of questions to determine whether what we are about to share is likely to increase or decrease the pollution in the information environment. This is a principle I’ve personally adopted. Below are ten questions I ask myself that focus on four variables; the content itself, the source of the content, the subject matter and my own engagement with the content, source and subject:

1. Who produced the content and why?
2. Was the content paid for?
3. Why was the content shared?
4. Is the content fact-based or an opinion piece?
5. How might I test the reliability of the source and the accuracy of the content?
6. What were the motivations for taking the actions that led to this content reaching me?
7. Am I listening to a sufficient variety of sources on the subject of the content?
8. Is there a particular conclusion I want to draw on this subject supported by this piece of content?
9. By sharing this content, am I at risk of becoming an agent of an agenda that might be distorted, incomplete or wrong?
10. Am I comfortable enough with my answers to the above questions to share this content in good faith?

I’ve applied this process now for a couple of years and have found that answering the questions often reveals more than the content itself. It can tell me which perspectives are being promoted, by whom, those that have been neglected, and often why. It can also tell me much about the strengths and shortcomings of my own view on a particular subject. Moreover, it has considerably reduced the amount of information I share these days, due, primarily, to the time constraints and results the process delivers.

We might even go a step further. To enhance transparency, we could explicitly state the answers to our due diligence questions on the posts we share? This way, anyone reading our shared content will be sure it has passed our personal checking procedures, the strength of which would be open to interpretation and challenge. We may even go a step further than that and state our philosophical biases and allergies too?

Perhaps these are subjects to expand on in a follow-up post…

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