LeBow Senior Educates the Student Community About Online Misinformation
No one would fault a student months away from graduating for having a bit of tunnel vision in looking toward full-time positions and other future plans.
Shaily Panwar took a broader view, spending much of her fourth and fifth years at LeBow educating her fellow students and the broader Drexel community on the dangers of online misinformation — on top of working at her third co-op placement.
Panwar, a finance and business analytics major originally from India, worked as an Information Explorer with the Drexel Libraries, researching misinformation and promoting media literacy among students. The position culminated with a ScholarSnack presentation during fall term entitled “Debunking Climate Change and Sustainability Social Media Myths.”
She became interested in the topic through a student-employee position with Drexel’s Office of Climate and Sustainability, where she conducted research on other higher-ed institutions implementing climate action plans and working with their own climate and sustainability entities.
“It was really interesting to see how Drexel is doing its part on these topics, but students are not yet aware of the resources that exist,” she said. “There’s so much going around in the world, and that leads to so much misinformation, whether it’s good or bad.”
Later, when she came across a job posting for the Information Explorers program, misinformation wasn’t yet on her radar.
“I read more about the topic, and eventually it all came together and I understood,” she said. “You think you believe something so strongly, but it turns out it’s not true or that you believed it in the wrong way.”
One source she came across, and which she shared during her presentation, pairs an image of melting polar ice with a statement that “global temperatures are rising 7.5 degrees each year.” The figure is much lower, in fact, but this kind of alarmism in a pro-environment message has the potential to do harm as well.
“It might guide people to the right path, but it’s the wrong way to start on it,” she said. “Any concerning topic can be easily molded to drive people in the wrong direction.”
In an earlier information session with students, Panwar and another Information Explorer introduced the fact that dairy production is the leading contributor to worldwide methane gas air pollution, and students refused to believe it. Panwar recalls their reactions: how could something as healthy and natural as milk contribute to environmental pollution?
“The digital world is full of wrong information, and I really wanted to make students understand, it’s important to check the source and not to believe everything you see and hear,” she said.
Along with her experience working as an Information Explorer, Panwar credits her growing financial and media literacy to adjunct professor Kevin Roche, with whom she took Investment Securities and Markets (FIN 321), a core requirement for her finance major.
“He’d ask every morning, ‘How’s the market doing? What did you read in the news?’ and it really helped frame my thinking that I should know the markets.
“In finance, there are different opinions about so many things, and if I hear someone’s opinion and just believe it, I’m going to look like a person who walks in the path of others and not like a person who thinks for herself. Finance needs people who think for themselves, who have their own strategies and who understand what’s going on in the market.”
“In Finance, people have different opinions for many things. If I hear someone’s opinion and believe in it, then I didn’t have my thought process involved. Finance needs people who are creative in their strategies and have understanding about the markets.”
Panwar has continued to hone her market savvy through her current co-op position in private wealth management at Goldman Sachs, and she says she now takes a more skeptical view of media reports from her home country on topics ranging from Indian politics and reality TV shows to business and economics.
“If there’s a topic where there’s two differing opinions, read them both and then frame your own — but make sure you’re reading from the right sources.”