I started and re-started my answer to this ask half a dozen times. Because it’s a really, really important question, but it’s also a hard question to answer in a useful way. I’m going to do my best.
Nothing is as important as what you believe is true. If I can control what you think, I can control every decision you make. I can control what products you buy, who you vote for, which of your friends you trust—and which of them you distrust; I can choose which social causes you apply yourself to, and how effectively you champion them; to a very great extent I can even decide what you’ll major in in college, who you’ll marry, IF you’ll marry, if you’ll STAY married if the marriage goes bad, what job you’ll go for, how well you’ll do in that job, how you spend your leisure hours, how you treat your children, how you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror, what you’ll eat for dinner, and if you’ll respect yourself in the morning.
EVERY DECISION YOU MAKE is based on what information you’ve accepted. So if I can make you believe what I want you to believe, I own you.
And make no mistake: my best interests are NEVER the same as your best interests. The most you can hope for from ANY source is that their interests and your interests align. If I’m a company, then it’s in my best interest if you buy my product. I am only interested in the quality and safety of my product to the extent that you will not buy it if it’s garbage, or too dangerous. If I’m a newspaper, believe me, my goal is not to make you a more informed citizen of the world. My goal is to sell newspapers.
However, it may be that my reputation is an important part of reaching my goals: and if I feed you misinformation, my reputation may be damaged. And so a degree of trust may be invested in sufficiently reputable sources, since their goal (“to maintain a high reputation”) and your goal (“to learn something”) are aligned. Be VERY CAREFUL when bestowing this kind of trust on a source, and NEVER let them act as your ONLY source. You can never know for sure how important that reputation really is to them, or for what ends they may be willing to compromise it.
"But this information is from a random Tumblr post, not a news corporation, or a professional blog. Nobody’s making money, here. So why would they lie to me?" Attention? Attention’s a big one. Those posts you see going around, full of SHOCKING CLAIMS, usually have tens of thousands of notes. Tens of thousands of people shocked - shocked! - to learn that feeding bread to ducks makes them sick, or that Charlie Chaplin was a Nazi, or that bleach mixed with baking soda can eat through concrete. It doesn’t matter that none of those things are true. It doesn’t even matter if the OP, or all of the people reblogging it, BELIEVE that they’re true. What matters is that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE had in their own interest something that was more important to them than “make sure the things I’m reblogging are accurate.”
Maybe they wanted the prestige of being the first to bring interesting new information to their social group. Maybe they were alarmed by what they read, and they wanted to keep their friends and loved ones safe. Maybe what they read reinforced some bias that they had, and so they disseminated it because they wanted it to be true. Maybe having this surprising intel on their blog made them feel more intelligent, or more socially conscious. There are lots of reasons, because there are lots of people, and every single one of those people had their own best interests.
And none of those interests are yours.
So because what you believe is SO important, and because you are the sole guardian of your own best interests, I think it’s downright reckless to accept any piece of information as fact without asking two questions first:
- Who is telling me this? Do I have reason to trust them? Should I trust them SO MUCH as to let them be the sole arbiter of what I believe on this subject?
- Who benefits if I accept it as the truth? THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. A lot of information masquerades as being in the interests of one thing when really it’s in the interests of something else. Really think about it.
When you choose to believe someone - anyone - about anything, you are giving them power over you. And skepticism is the only thing that protects you from giving that power to people who don’t deserve it.