It took me a millisecond to answer this. It might even be one of my most important answers, ever.
Don’t believe everything you read.
From headlines designed to get you to click, to content designed to enrage you, to poorly researched and vetted content, misinformation is everywhere.
You need to be able to tell truth from fiction, and know not to trust what you can’t verify.
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Clickbait and more
At one level, the whole concept of “clickbait” has now transformed from simple “you won’t believe what happened next” kind of headlines to just about anything, phrased in any way, with the sole goal of getting you to click through to an article and view the advertisements there.
The same thing is true for social media interactions. Basically, anything that benefits from more shares, likes, and views can be manipulated to encourage those actions with little regard to the veracity of the content.
On one hand, you might think this is mostly about political and social issues. While it certainly applies there, my perspective is that it’s just as pervasive in other areas of information flow.
Misinformation and misdirection are everywhere
The very topics you’re asking about — internet, social media, smart phones, technology, cyber privacy, and security — are themselves often the subjects of inflammatory, misleading, and fear-mongering headlines and content. The goal seems to be to scare you, and by scaring you, get you to pay more attention (or even money) to those doing the scaring.
No, the latest vulnerability will probably not affect you. Yes, your email address was exposed in a recent breach — so? At worst, you’ll probably just get more spam. Yes, social media and other sites and services collect a ton of information. Does it affect you? Probably not.
Sure, ads that follow you may seem creepy, but do they really harm you? Ninety-nine times out of 100, the answer is a very strong “no”.
The other 1%
We do not live in a black and white world, but you need to understand probability and risk. Of course there are situations where individuals are adversely impacted. Someone’s computer is impacted by a vulnerability. Perhaps their exposed email address leads to successful phishing attack. Maybe the information collected by social media leads to identity theft or harassment.
You’re much less likely to be affected by any of that than headlines lead you to believe. Don’t let the headlines scare you, mislead you, or worse, cause you to take unnecessary or even ill-advised actions.
The chances are whatever you’re reading about, from technological flaws to the latest health scare, impacts very few people. Aside from basic precautions you should have in place anyway, there’s typically exactly nothing you need to do, as you are not at imminent risk.
Skepticism — a tool for our times
The single most important thing you can do is to remain skeptical.
Don’t believe everything you read.
When consuming information on or about any of the items you list, ask yourself if the claims are overblown, the risk is overstated, or the benefits are over-promised. Is it too good (or bad) to be true? Look for independent confirmation if you’re the least bit concerned.
Most of all, don’t let fear resulting from misinformation prevent you from embracing and utilizing all that the world, and particularly technology, has to offer.
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