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The Debacle of Being Misinformed: From a Gen-Z Perspective



By Callie Whicker

As a kid, I was a gullible child. I used to have friends trick me in school into doing different things, would listen to stories that many knew were filled with lies, and had unwavering trust in many. Today, things have changed. The childlike trickery that I saw in school never stopped; it just moved online. 


I woke up a few days ago, seeing a headline across my phone as I was on the way to one of my classes: “Can Ilhan Omar Be Deported? Republicans Call for Her Removal.” I pulled up the article, seeing that she had a speech at a hotel in Minneapolis regarding recent regional elections in Somalia, spoken in Somali. I was a bit astonished that her speech was being slashed down; I figured that this couldn’t be right, told myself that it was probably just something Republicans had taken and ran with, and took a mental note. Just the other day, as I was going through the news, I saw countless articles about how her speech was mistranslated, and whether it was intentional or by accident, the right has taken this idea and ran with it. 


Former Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis said that Rep. Omar should be deported. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called for censure in the House. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer wanted an ethics investigation, and said she should “resign in disgrace.” This is just from her colleagues, not even the citizens that claimed that they wanted her expelled, dead, and other things so much worse. All over a mistranslated speech regarding her birthplace. 


Misinformation is something that many aren’t, ironically, informed about in the slightest. There are important differences when it comes to the world of misinformation. Disinformation tends to be the origin; something made up, fabricated, for a potential outcome. Misinformation is what follows, when people that are disinformed spread that incorrect information, something where they believe the information is true.  Many in my own generation don’t even know about misinformation, and this prospect is only going to get worse. Misinformation even made it to President Biden, when he claimed that Hamas had been “beheading babies,” an unverified claim that wasn’t true. Most of the time, we have confirmation that something is true when we can physically see it. In 2024, that idea simply isn’t true anymore. With the development of AI, the progression of deep fakes, and the innovation of technology in American society, we are forced to choose whether to believe factual or incorrect information presented to us as all the same. It’s not something that’s going to go away, either. 


I believe that misinformation is one of, if not the most powerful political weapon ever. Many far-right ideologies are built on pieces of misinformation and conspiracy. Although this country has many smart people, all of us have been fooled by wrong information at one time or another. What happened with Rep. Omar was more than just a mistranslation; it’s now permanently damaged her political career. She was the latest scapegoat for a regime far different than her own, and was used as a political tool. Yet, there’s a person behind that fake idea, someone’s life who is now completely changed because of that. 


Just 3 years ago, when I was in high school, I was a part of a research program where I got to conduct my own research study, where I looked at “How has the spread of misinformation by TikTok’s algorithm contributed to extreme political ideologies in viewers ages 16-24?” Misinformation on its own is a powerful tool; with social media, it’s as powerful of a weapon as the atomic bomb. The following graphic I made to show just how misinformation spreads on social media. 

 



This cycle runs so quickly that misinformation spreads like wildfire. And most Americans see this. A Pew Research Center study found that a majority of Americans want to see restrictions for false information online. I believe in this too, but I believe that there has to be more people involved in both politics and tech to direct us forward. It’s a critical step that Congress hasn’t taken, and probably won’t actually take for some time. How do you regulate an ever-changing industry? It starts with Congress taking the steps to consult tech experts in the field, making legislation that can be updated over time, and legislation that will be effective to the tech industry. 


This is why eliminating misinformation as quickly as possible is important. The foundation of American democracy is cracking away. At first, it was chipping slowly. Now? A sledgehammer is being taken to the foundation it stands on. We all have to be hyper vigilant: don’t get your news from a single source, don’t spread information without double-checking it’s correct, and don’t just read news headlines; read the whole article. Things are never as they seem anymore… 


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