Growing up, I was subjected to much myth and misinformation regarding drugs and drug use. Most of this information came from my peers. Many years later I still find myself sifting the internet, attempting to part the truths from the half truths, myths, lies and stereotypes that seem to abound regarding the topic of drug use.
There is no doubt that the advent of the world wide web has enabled us to share and discover new information at a startling rate, however the same myths and misconceptions that dogged my adolescence continue to be perpetuated online. I recently became quite disgruntled with this when reading an article asserting that a user could become dependent upon heroin from there very first exposure to the drug (just let’s be clear here heroin dependence requires repeated doses to heroin before dependence develops). What was most frustrating was that there was no way of posting comments to the site to challenge this misconception. It was with this in mind that I thought I would explore the notion of how we challenge misinformation in the digital age.
Online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as more topic specific chat forums are perhaps one of the easiest places to challenge a misconception or otherwise misinformed position. Simply respond to erroneous posts with correct information preferably backed with the evidence that you are drawing from. Remember to be polite. Text mediated interactions are an imperfect communication tool and lend themselves to misunderstanding. It may well be that the person you are challenging has not expressed themselves well, or they have unintentionally perpetuated the misconception through a lack of knowledge rather than intent. Either way reasoned polite interaction will always attract far more people to the discussion than an impassioned rant.
Commenting on blogs or other websites
With the advent of Web 2.0 (often referred to as the read/write web) many websites and blogs allow for a two way communication through the provision of commenting. If you identify misinformation on a website let the authors know through this facility if it is available. Just as in correspondence in social networks, keep the tone of your response polite and measured. Many blog/website administrators moderate commenting and a full on attack is less likely to get published to the site thereby leaving the misinformation unchallenged.
Trolls, Flamers and Haters
You know them. They are the often faceless people who rant, fail to even consider reasonable argument and often descend to name calling and stereotyping. My suggestion: make your point in a reasonable tone then disengage. Trolls, flamers and haters should not go unchallenged but at the same time there is no reasoning with them. They are ideologically wed to the misinformation that they are peddling or they just want to get a rise. By all means correct the information but don’t engage in the muckslinging. Present the evidence and then get out!
Dealing with misinformation in Web 1.0
This maybe even more frustrating than dealing with Trolls, Flamers and Haters. While increasingly becoming rarer there are some sites that have no facility for commenting. One strategy in this instance may be to post a link to the offending website via a social network such as Twitter or Facebook accompanied by your disputing argument/evidence. I am often reluctant to do this however as many of these sites bank on increasing traffic as a business model. A good example of this is some of the less scrupulous websites that pose misinformation in order to promote some commercial rehabilitation centres (just to be very clear here, I’m not taking a swipe at the private treatment sector as a whole, just the organisations that utilise scare campaigns and misinformation as a business driver). By posting links on social networks we may just be playing into their hands. This is not to say that they should go unchallenged, but instead we need to be more nuanced in our approach. This might include ensuring that when posting a link to the offending site in social networks, that we provide a link in the same post to well evidenced disputing information.
Informed media production
Perhaps one of the most powerful things that we can do as advocates of evidence based approaches to drugs in our society is to create competing sources of information. With the advent of Web 2.0, the means of media production is well and truly in our hands. If you see misinformation on the internet you can always create a competing article or other media item that provides accurate information. The more harm reduction advocates who engage in this type of activity the larger the body of accessible and evidence based information that is available to the people of our communities. It is with this mind that I am starting a new series of articles on Stonetree that are tagged #mythbusted. These articles will challenge misconceptions and misinformation that I find on my journeys across the world wide web.