People used to be immediately and persistently shamed if they were liars. It would damage them for a long time. The internet mediates almost all news and a lot of wider-context understanding, and in doing so, removed those social incentives to accuracy. Then we put a price tag on people's time, whoever soaks up the most wins. Media literacy isn't just something we hear about in school for a single lesson. It's become an important tool in every broad element of human life: science, politics, culture, religion, creativity, everything.

And yet our discussion about media literacy is hysterically bad – the most common reference to it is "fake news" which is largely used to refer to "bad press" (which, it's worth pointing out, isn't an admonishment, just an acknowledgement that everything is described poorly by outsiders). But if nearly eradicated diseases survive and kill again because of, essentially, trolling 'autistic' memes, we need to sharpen our wits and expand our caution considerably.

It's hard to imagine, in our complex, interconnected, abstracted and engineered world, a task we're sure we could do effectively even if our understanding of it was maliciously corrupted. Even family stuff is not immune, although I imagine it's close to the safest, but parents are already applying stone cold stupid things they 'learned' online to the parenting process, doing some amount of damage measured in the lives of those succumbing to measles.

My concern is that this is a lower bound – being gullible and tricked by those with an incentive to trick you could be even more costly and grotesque, and there's a simple way to avoid it, even if it's difficult.

Stop reading news from people you don't trust. Stop reading about science from people you don't trust, or are part of institutions you don't trust. Mostly ignore surprising things until you're pretty sure they're real. Mostly ignore new things until you're sure you've heard the whole story. Practice considering something without taking it seriously. Listen more to the stories of how sure someone can sound and still be wrong, and develop the humility to see yourself and your most prized opinions in their shoes.

I'm no saint on this front, we could all do better. But to do better we've all got to be trying. I think we can do that.