Opinion: Stop Sharing Infographics

So, I want to be clear before I share my opinion on infographics: Your profile, your decisions, your responsibility. I have no judgements against anyone who wants to share information, because I realize that most people are sharing out of concern for others, and frankly, it is our own responsibility to educate ourselves. So, in case it’s not clear, I love you all, this has nothing to do with a specific person or group, and I support your right to do with your social media powers as you see fit.

That being said, it is very alarming to me how easily people will share outright false information. I’m certain that almost every person with social media account has recently shared some picture about the type of food we’re eating, the products we’re using, or the people we’re voting for.

Oh, perhaps I should back up. If you didn’t know, an infographic is a picture that uses charts and graphs, along with tidbits of information, to stylistically tell a story, usually claiming to represent facts. But I want to wage war against all inappropriate fact-sharing, so in this case, my definition of an infographic is as follows:

infographic – n. – a picture, video or post (e.g. status update) that makes a claim in such a manner that evokes interest or emotion, often calling the audience to action

I’m looking at you, Kony 2012! For an insightful article on actual infographics, how they work, and why it’s a problem, read Ending the Infographic Plague. The issue isn’t that all infographics are lies, it’s that most of them are, in part, falsely representing facts. And yes, some of them are downright lies. (Note: Based on my definition, memes (a viral, usually humorous picture that depicts many different sayings) are also considered infographics. And those are, like the good ol’ lottery, for entertainment purposes only. I don’t want to wage war on humor, so we can pretty much leave those out.)

Now, if you didn’t read the article that linked to, it addresses actual infographics, like these. They aren’t necessarily inaccurate, but the article points out that a lot of the facts can be misrepresented, even though the graphic has a list of websites as sources for the information. The reason? Linkability! That is to say, websites will pump out an infographic in order to get people to link to their website, which increases their searchability (their placement on google searches) and in turn provides them with more hits and ad revenue. And you know, making those facts seem extra juicy is incredibly tempting, wouldn’t you say?

A lot of stuff that circulates the internet is meant to evoke emotion. Like this. I found this graph online from a reputable source. It is incredibly scary, and people should really know this stuff. I didn’t even know this was happening.

graph

Ok, so obviously I was faking the last few sentences. But this chart, with its pretty colors and shocking claims (obviously these are a little too shocking, since I cuddle with my kitties AT LEAST 50% of the time) is often all it takes for a person to share the information, especially if they are operating under the assumption that it is a good source. Which is often not the case.

Let me give you an example.

Cancer fighting foods

I’ve seen posts like this before. Now, I’m not saying that this information is false, but it doesn’t really provide its audience with very much. See the website at the bottom? Occasionally this blog will provide a source, but largely, pictures like this are all there is. But, it’s just a blog, and just because its Facebook page has a million likes doesn’t mean it’s a reputable source for health information. Yet people will share this simply because they already agree with the information, even though some of it could be false.

Now, it’s pretty safe to say that a person who wants to eat healthy won’t really go wrong with what is listed, but what if it said something like, say, “Foods that get rid of cancer in 10 days or less?” In my opinion, it may as well have. Without a study or professional article that explains why these foods kill cancer, the audience is left to fend for themselves, and making major life choices because of a picture like this is why sharing infographics, in my opinion, is a bad idea.

And yet, people do. Because the people who share stuff like this probably already believe that these foods kill cancer. Again, I’m not saying they don’t, all I’m saying is that information like that deserves to be sourced properly, so that the people you are sharing with can be fully informed.

On a different note,  let’s talk about WARNING posts that get shared a lot. We’ve all seen these posts that basically are the new type of chain email. They don’t threaten you with a ghost butcher under your bed, but they do generally use scare tactics in order to get you to share. You may have seen the one about AAA offering a free ride home on New Year’s Eve. There’s a new one every day. Perhaps you saw this one.

One problem with this is that it uses names like CNN and McAfee to get your attention, but provides no links. Those companies would probably be circulating this information themselves, and it could be helpful if Facebook users pass it on, but this isn’t how they would go about it. People really, seriously, just need to stop sharing this stuff and look it up themselves. Snopes.com is one of the sites a lot of people go to for myth busting. It isn’t hard to use Google, and often that’s all it really takes.

What’s hardest for me is when I see something compelling. There was a post going around a bit ago about Irena Sendler, a polish woman who saved thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust. She was, in actuality, an incredible woman with an incredible story. The “infographic” however, painted a picture that was a bit askew. Many of the facts were either partially incorrect or downright made up. But why? The real story (which I found via the provided link, a rare case) was just as impressive, so what was the purpose of falsifying it? It was cheapened for no reason, and it just frustrated me that people were willingly sharing bad information even though the truth is just as easy to find and obviously way better.

This is just my opinion, though. I’m not a certified professional of anything, really, so you don’t have to take what I say as gospel. But, if you take anything away from this, let it be this: Insist on knowing the facts from sources you know are trustworthy.

The truth is worth more than any amount of money or popularity or power. It’s worth fighting for, and we shouldn’t be careless about it.

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