How has misinformation impacted you and people you know?

 As someone who grew up in what seemed to be the dawn of social media, I have witnessed the evolution of Internet regulations and safety guidelines across various platforms. Similarly, I have also watched as the rise of social media has contributed to the rampant spread of misinformation. Growing up, the most common kind of misinformation that I would encounter was chain emails or text messages from friends saying that if I did not forward the message, I would be given years of bad luck or something of the sort. Obviously, those kinds of messages are mostly harmful and a bit annoying once you realize they are not real. However, these kinds of things can very easily take on a mind of their own and snowball out of control.

This was particularly evident during the 2016 and 2020 elections, as well as throughout much of the Covid-19 Pandemic. I was only in high school during the 2016 election and was not as cognizant of media literacy or how easily disinformation can spread until I watched then-presidential candidate Donald Trump make false claims that the media was biased against him. His claims that CNN and other “left-wing/liberal” news outlets spread “fake news” seemed foolish and made me doubt that anyone would ever actually vote for him. Then when he won the election and we were forced to live through his presidency, I realized just how many people were willing to support outright lies and disinformation in order to reap the benefits. 

This grew over the course of Trump’s time in office and manifested in the form of underground right-wing news outlets spreading blatantly false information for their own personal gain. As the tension between the right and the left grew, distrust in the media (particularly CNN) grew as well. Outlets such as Q-Anon covertly gained traction and spread lies about the election, presidency, and eventually the Covid-19 pandemic. I did not initially believe that Q-Anon was as serious as it is, but I quickly learned differently. Multiple stories written by Q-Anon either made claims that the pandemic was a hoax and that vaccines are tracking devices and/or cause autism, or that Americans should take ivermectin, a medicine used to deworm livestock.

Thankfully, no one in my immediate family bought into these claims, though many of my extended family did. It was very difficult having conversations with them during this time, and even now. In years before, we could meet in the middle about certain issues and move past our political differences. This has changed overtime due to the level of irrationality that many followers of Q-Anon possess, especially after the 2020 election. They are so deep in their beliefs that they are unable to realize that what they are consuming and spreading is untrue. It is very difficult to reason with them, even with facts, because they do not see them as such. It is certainly a very scary time to be paying attention to the news simply due to the number of people who cannot see fact.

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