How NOT to Spread Misinformation Through Your Content
BEFORE YOU READ ANY FURTHER, please take note of the following:
I come from an academic background, so my inclination is always going to be geared toward accepting scholarly and authoritative sources over conspiracy theorists.
If you think it's perfectly fine for people to spread misinformation either through laziness or a desire to win an ideological war of some sort, don't bother reading any further and definitely don't bother commenting.
If you think that truth is relative and unknowable and that your personal truth is as valid as agreed upon scientific and historical realities, don't bother reading any further.
If you make all of your money from Facebook leads and can't stand any criticism of a platform that demonstrably seeks to undermine what's best for individuals and societies, there's probably no point in continuing.
Now, if anyone's left, let's talk about keeping yourself and your followers safe from online misinformation.
Social media and other tools of the Information age we're living in have turned out to be a double-edged sword, allowing everyone from the ill-informed to the ill-intentioned to spread misinformation far and wide. To make matters worse, many otherwise reasonable, rational professionals in the real estate world and beyond are so firmly entrenched in their own ideological, cultural, and political bubbles, they've ceased to believe anyone or any source that disagrees with their preconceived notions of reality.
The result is that many otherwise perfectly agreeable agents, brokers, and entrepreneurs are putting out information that ranges from mistaken to downright dangerous. A few years ago I wrote about the rise of misinformation for Inman. At the time, I hoped that a word to the wise would be sufficient and that we would see a shift in the years that followed. I hoped that people would get smarter about the sources they listened to.
At the risk of making MANY of my readers mad, I also hoped that a change in the presidency would bring about a return to civility and a reduction in conspiracy theories and state-sponsored misinformation. Needless to say, that did not happen and COVID conspiracies have made things exponentially worse.
Now, of course, the Facebook whistleblower has made us even more aware of how that platform and its many affiliate platforms spread misinformation specifically designed to cause negative engagement. This is good news for me since it confirms that the rise in blood pressure I experience whenever I log in to Facebook (which isn't often) is not just my imagination but is, in fact, a purposeful product of the platform's design. In other words, not a bug but a feature.
If you want to ensure that you're not spreading misinformation to your online followers, here are some things to keep in mind. The good news? They're easy and eminently doable and 99.9% guaranteed to help you make good choices with your online presence.
1. Think twice before you post something that doesn't serve you, your business, or the public.
If your primary social media presence is geared toward lead generation and engagement for your business, you should be especially careful about the material you post. Remember that old rule of good manners from a bygone era: "Don't talk about religion or politics in polite company."
I used to live in Washington DC where talking about politics is as natural as talking about the weather. Even if this is true where you live, it's a good idea to avoid talking about things online that could be controversial or inspire strong feelings.
In addition, there are many topics that fall under the umbrella of "politics or religion" that also affect Fair Housing and the public perception of the real estate services you provide. It's better to be safe than sorry and avoid topics that could be offensive or indicate prejudice on your behalf.
2. Avoid secret or esoteric sources of knowledge in favor of vetted and data-based expertise.
One of my favorite things to watch is cult documentaries. I love Leah Remini's Aftermath series and I've seen HBO's The Vow about a million times. One of the common threads that you see in any cult is the assertion that the cult leader has some sort of secret, unattainable knowledge that they are willing to sell for the right price.
Part of the way that these groups suck people in and keep them on the hook is by making them believe that they know the secrets to life and the universe and that they have some special understanding that the sheeple outside the cult don't have access to. Sound familiar? It's the way a lot of online influencers operate, creating groups that have some unique understanding that the mainstream sources of information don't have.
I hate to break it to you, but most of these so-called secret sources of information are either misrepresenting the truth or outright making it up for fun and profit. There is money in building a society but there's just as much money in dismantling one.
Right now there are groups all over the world who are hard at work looking for ways to keep people from cooperating and getting things done to improve their societies. This is not an opinion; this is a well-established fact.
When you are frustrated by something in your life or in society -- maybe a particular person or maybe just the fact that the world seems to be changing really quickly (it is) -- it is tempting to give in to the fantasy that there's some bigger force at work and that someone in your Facebook feed has the answers. It's tempting to place blame and find someone to fear or hate rather than face the fact that reality is sometimes difficult to cope with.
Stop looking outside yourself for answers and start looking at ways to tend your garden -- work on your business, get your finances in order, improve your mental or physical health. Create content around that, content that elevates and enlightens.
3. For God's sake, Google things.
I recently saw someone I respect share a book recommendation with their online followers. One Google search of the title showed that it had been called out by everybody (even FACEBOOK) for spreading misinformation. It was utter BS.
Now, this person will have some followers who don't Google and don't know that this is misinformation. They will read this book recommended by their trusted friend and colleague and go down a rabbit hole of dangerous content.
Other people will Google and will see that the book is filled with irresponsible lies and errors. They will look at this trusted professional as a bit of a kook, at best, or a dangerous, deluded individual at worst.
If you have built a platform and have a voice that reaches hundreds or thousands of people, you also have the responsibility to know what you are recommending. You shouldn't be sending incorrect and dangerous information out into the world without doing the most cursory search to see if it is appropriate and valid.
It is so difficult now, I know. You want engagement and you want to share something interesting. You want to get attention. Maybe you've read or seen something that scared you and you wanted to warn others.
Here's the thing, though. You are a real estate professional. You know a lot about your market, about real estate, and about how to help the clients you serve. Share that. Create content that is meaningful and value-added. Don't take your cues from Facebook or from what's showing up in your personal feed.
On a larger scale, if you've created a bubble of information for yourself -- only trusting one source, whether it's online, on the TV, or in a newspaper -- branch out. Look around. Read a variety of publications. If someone tells you they're the only one who knows, they're lying to you. Ask yourself why they would do that.