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7 Investor Tools to Fight Misinformation: If You Like It, Don't Trust It

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Feb 23, 2021 at 4:51PM

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Step 4 in staying well-informed online: Beware of people telling you what you want to hear.

On Wall Street, information is power. Investors increase their potential to profit by knowing more than the person on the other side of each transaction. But some unscrupulous folks don't stop at simply gathering better intelligence. They aim to cash in by spreading lies that mislead and misdirect ordinary investors like you -- making themselves rich at your expense. But with persistence and a little know-how, you can protect yourself, your friends and family, and your money from making these kinds of costly mistakes.

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something." 
-- William Goldman, The Princess Bride.

Misinformation rarely insults us. Instead, it flatters. We like to think that the things we already know and believe are correct, and when we receive information that confirms this, we feel satisfied and happy. This holds true for everyone. Even you.

Take care with any piece of information that directly, immediately, unquestioningly supports what you already think. It might very well be true -- but to make sure of that, you'll have to examine all the evidence for and against it. 

Let's say you don't like Joes & Phos, the combination sloppy joe/Vietnamese noodle soup chain that's been sweeping the nation. The location near you always looks overcrowded, the prices seem exorbitant, and you just don't like the taste of their sriracha sloppy-joe sliders with lemongrass bone broth dipping sauce. So when you read an article saying that the company's stock (ticker: PHJO) is overpriced garbage that's destined to go to zero, you're naturally more likely to believe it. 

Resist that urge! Look carefully at the arguments that negative article's making. (We'd encourage you to do the same even if you loved Joes & Phos and read a positive article about it.) How do its assertions line up with reality? What facts or arguments is it leaving out? Joes & Phos may indeed be headed for the stock market dumpster, but without evidence, you can't and shouldn't assume that just because you don't like it.

Training your brain to go against what it already believes takes time and hard work, but it can make you a better investor. Learning to find the flaws in your own thinking can help you build a stronger case for or against a particular investment, and allow you to invest with greater confidence. If you buy into a stock already knowing its potential flaws and weak spots, you'll know what to watch for to see whether those deficits are starting to overcome its strengths. And if bad news does strike, you'll be able to act quickly and decisively, rather than getting blindsided into a money-losing blunder -- all because you planned ahead and knew what to expect.

Flattery doesn't just apply to what we believe. It works on us, too. We're wired to like people who like us -- to want to believe them and do nice things for them. So if you find any argument that tries to make its case by talking up you -- how smart you are for listening, how special or talented or insightful you are for seeing this thing that others are missing, what a select group you're in as part of this rare opportunity -- proceed with caution.

Facts should be able to speak for themselves. They shouldn't need a slathering of sycophant sauce to make sense or win you over.

7 Investor Tools to Fight Misinformation

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