Navigating the Misinformation Age: How to verify sources before making conclusions

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, March 3, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Keona Blanks, James Campbell High School, Class of 2019

Picture this: a smiling Catholic high school student and his classmates donning MAGA hats. They’re standing in front of a chanting Native American elder. Sounds like a moment that could be interpreted in many ways, right? Well, it wasn’t. It was hardly interpreted in one, and that interpretation called for the boys’ heads.

On January 18th, a Twitter account with more than 40,000 followers posted a minute-long video showing this interaction. The caption read, “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March”—without further context. The video, garnering over 14,000 retweets and 2.5 million views, sparked a political uproar.

In a perfect world, the thousands who retweeted the image would have investigated its context before doing so, because they’d have learned to. Unfortunately, ours is a world of concluding minds over inquiring minds.

However, it shouldn’t be so; information literacy is a national standard for higher learning set by the American Library Association. The information literate individual has the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the desired information. “When you visit the library in elementary school, you’re taught which sources are good and bad and why that might be so; but a lot of that gets disregarded nowadays because the information is so quick and easy to access,” said James Campbell High School history teacher John Santiago.

To avoid another MAGA Catholic student misconstruation, don’t believe everything you read. Be skeptical. Santiago said, “Say that I hear something once on a news site or I catch it on Twitter, I’ll be like ‘Oh, that’s interesting. Might not be true. Let me go verify by checking other sites.’ Reading articles or watching videos from trusted news sources like CNN is my go-to. I always check out CNN or local news sources like Hawaii News Now or KITV. I also look at FOX News or BBC News sometimes just to get a different opinion or different perspective.”

In 2016, the Stanford History Education Group released a study sampling over 7,000 middle school, high school, and college students. When asked to evaluate online information, the students based their evaluation on a site’s look and feel, things a website creator could easily manipulate. When determining the legitimacy of a source, avoid lending validity to superficial factors like web page design and instead focus on their quality, evidence, footnotes, and content. Even verified evidence still requires investigation beyond surface-level analysis. “With statistics, if you see a number but don’t understand how people got that number, those numbers could be meaningless or mean something totally different. It’s good to have cameras and evidence; but when there’s no context, deeper analysis, or explanation, it can be dangerous,” Santiago said.

Thus, the question still remains, why are we information illiterate outside of the classroom? Defined as confirmation bias, this cherry-picking of information can lead to statistical errors and sweep vital evidence under the rug. We already know that social media can result in echo chambers supporting one’s point of view. As companies and website continue to work towards rectifying the issue, conclusions must be made based on the evidence at hand, rather than finding evidence that supports a preconceived conclusion.

In 1998, when journalist Stephen Glass was exposed for his unverifiable story “Hack Heaven” in addition to partial or full fabrication for 27 of his 41 stories, the public came to know full well that trusting a single source is risky. News can easily be fabricated. Have we since forgotten? In the end, it is the role of the consumer to digest information comprehensively and carefully.

Support Merit-Based Immigration System

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, February 3, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Toby In, Kalani High School Class of 2020, Kasen Wong, Hawaii Baptist Academy Class of 2019

Currently, the United States is more politically divided than ever before. As a result, Americans have created an echo chamber in which we isolate ourselves into an environment that simply validates our own beliefs. The lack of much-needed conversations amongst people of opposing viewpoints has given rise to the resentful consequences of political polarization. As high school students, we feel obligated to create a more politically united country for a better America. To bridge this divide, our group, Around the Roundtable, aims to create a platform for people of various viewpoints to hear and understand their political differences through the art of civil discussion. One of the issues at the center of this tumultuous political climate is the topic of race and immigration, specifically the value and benefits of merit-based immigration policies.

Merit-based immigration policies are policies that allow people to migrate to countries based on their merits and potential to contribute to the economy. This merit-based system typically considers criteria such as health, income, and occupational status. Such a proposal appears enticing in several ways. For instance, immigration complication could be evaded by only allowing certain immigrants who can make a contribution with their citizenship. As a result of being selective, it leads to a country that is productive, hard-working, and patriotic.

Furthermore, an issue often associated with both legal and illegal immigration is decreased wages and job availability for working-class Americans. However, with a merit-based system it would limit the flow of low-skilled immigrants, thus making it easier for native-born working-class Americans to find work. A merit-based system accounts for both the prosperity of native-born Americans and the benefits that hard working skilled immigrants have on the country.

Opponents argue that meritocratic immigration policies favor immigrants from more developed countries as they often have the education and financial background to fill the criteria of an acceptable U.S. citizen. This leaves immigrants, who may be equally hard working, from politically unstable countries such as Venezuela or El Salvador at a disadvantage to enter U.S. borders. These individuals often struggle to get the proper education or a strong financial background to fulfill the criteria of merit-based immigration policies.

A solution to this potential bias in the immigration screening process is similar to that of the points-based immigration system currently implemented in Canada and Australia. During the immigration screening process, prioritizing immigrants that have a desire to assimilate into American culture and learn the English language can help retain America’s rich culture and values, while also support a growing multicultural population.

America is known for its great history of innovation as well as its economic and military prowess. Through meritocratic immigration policies, America can continue to grow on its great history by accepting the best and the brightest. However, these meritocratic immigration policies must be enforced in a way that allows citizens from all countries an equal opportunity to become U.S. citizens. Bringing it back to our first event where we were able to bring together individuals from all parts of the political spectrum to settle out their differences. We hope that our first event is a parallel to how America will enforce its immigration policies: listening to all the voices of America to enforce an immigration policy that will ultimately benefit America as a whole.