Knowing where your information is coming from is crucial to your consumption of knowledge. Deciphering among the credible and non-credible can be a challenging feat, but there are some basic questions you can ask yourself before forming a conclusion or deciding an outcome based off the data obtained from the media. It’s obvious that the way we collect information has changed dramatically, and the amount of material available to us is insurmountable and only continuing to grow. Consequently; as a direct reflection of the growth of good information, the growth of false or misleading content has developed itself as well. Leading us to ask the question, how do you navigate the bad to ensure you are consuming only desired, factual information? Here’s where I can help.
Some questions to ask yourself:
Is it credible?
Flash back to your college days for a moment. When writing a paper, a requirement to get a passing grade and avoid plagiarism was properly citing your sources. Now, I don’t know about you, but Wikipedia did not count as a “credible” citation in my day, and most citations had to fulfill the requirement of being “scholarly publications” to be considered valuable. This of course meant the content was of academic quality that had been studied and peer reviewed. Now, I’m not saying to discredit every non-scholarly publication piece of information you come across, but double checking the credibility of your sources doesn’t hurt.
What (if anything) am I being sold?
One of the more highly regarded issues of misleading information when it comes to financial decisions is false promise. Like the promise that a miracle pill will give you the perfect body, the promise of financial prosperity or ruin can easily be considered factual if you’re not mindful of the information you’re feeding your brain. Advertisements can easily be disguised as articles these days and many times information is skewed to get an advertised message across; to sell you something. Now, selling does not have to come in the form of a product. Selling can come in the form of an idea or an interest/ disinterest in a specific way of thinking, computer history ring a bell? Ever notice that whenever you browse Crate & Barrel’s new bedsheet lines every website you visit suddenly is advertising Crate & Barrel sheets? Or when you search how to build a shed, suddenly Home Depot and Lowes lumbar advertisements consume your webpages? It’s not a coincidence! Everything you do is easily tracked and marketers are taking strides on product placement and advertisements being directed to target audiences. All I can say is, be mindful that advertising is never coincidental. Advertisements can also be mixed in with relevant content you read off major media sites, they can generally be spotted by noticing their (often small print) “sponsored ad” notation in their content box. Ads like these are usually attention grabbers, often using a cliff hanger or tagline to spark your interest. None of this of course is new, it just seems to be getting more and more difficult to filter through these advertisement-articles and the sponsored ad website infestation.
What are the motivators of the content provider?
We can often find things going “viral” or “trending” on social media outlets. Often, these topics can have little to no impact on our daily life or the decisions we make. Although relevancy may not be noticeable these viral videos and trending topics do create ideas and send messages to our brains that can alter our perception or force us to desire an item or outcome. Ever see those wonder-pill advertisements that are disguised as a news article? What gets presented to us is determined by the number of likes, shares, or clicks an article receives and your interests as a consumer. Even something as simple as an Instagram picture of a cup of Starbucks coffee can be an advertisement if the Instagrammer has a large enough following. Companies like Starbucks have grown to understand the large impact of subliminal ads disguised as organic content. See a cup of a steamy frothy peppermint mocha latte being cupped by two hands, snug inside cute cable knit gloves, overlooking a beautiful wintery scene with the hashtag #sogood #ilovestarbucks. This type of placement can unknowingly make you crave a peppermint mocha latte, maybe not today; but that image is planted in your subconscious for what Starbucks hopes is future use. Experienced marketers are gaining knowledge by the second on how to get into the minds of consumers and train their brains and learning how to curve ads to seem like general interest photos/articles. We live in a multi-media world; social media outlets are a large part of our everyday communication and this trend is only continuing to grow. Understanding your wants and needs and being able to decipher an advertisement from a content driven informational piece will save you a world of headache in the long run.