As you scroll, you see photos of your cousin’s baby, your best friend’s new dog, news articles from big-name outlets, and probably a few strongly worded statuses from friends and strangers. What draws your attention the most? What posts will you linger over the longest? While many of these posts are harmless, others could be damaging to you and your entire network.
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information, whether it’s intentional or not. Often coming in the form of fake news articles, unintentionally misleading statuses, or satire content, this misinformation becomes dangerous when people act on it. What’s the big deal? If you share a fake news article, each of your social media connections is at risk for acting on false information.
4 Steps to Take Before Sharing a Post
Step 1 - Find the Facts
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for popular articles on Facebook and Twitter to be filled with eye-grabbing statistics that are interpreted out of context. This means that your first step when reviewing a post is to find the facts. As you read, check for statistics, source citations, or other numbers. Once you find the facts, it’s important to verify context and accuracy.
According to Fordham University, there are a few key ways that big culprits of data mangling produce misleading infographics — namely, equating correlation with causation and pulling numbers out of context. To protect yourself, make sure to read up on the differences between mean, median, and mode. When looking at a graph or chart, is it clear what’s being compared? If labels are missing, consider whether that was an intentional decision to confuse readers. If you see “99% agree with this decision” ask, “99% of what? Or of whom?”
Once you’ve identified what the facts are trying to show, make sure to verify them through other resources, such as competing news outlets or even an academic source, like a university’s website or a scholarly journal.
Last but not least, it’s important to rely on your gut instinct as well. Look for things that jump out to you — like claims the sky is orange and not blue. Don’t share anything until you can verify the facts.
Step 2 - Check your emotions
Does this post feel like it’s messing with your emotions? Is it inciting anger in you? Or immediate action? Try to concretely lay out what you are being asked to do and consider if that action is something you agree with. Posts that trigger the most emotion are the ones that may be the most interesting, but they also bring the biggest consequences when you share them. Once you’ve determined what action a post is asking you to take or what emotion it’s evoking from you, ask yourself some basic questions. For example: What are the consequences of not voting? Of donating money or time to a particular organisation? Of joining a protest?
Always make sure to give yourself time to think before you share and act.
Step 3 - Who’s the author?
Check the source of the post and the author. Are they known for being reputable? If not, make the decision to not share.
If you’ve determined that the post’s author is reputable, now it’s time for more critical reflection. Does the post represent the author’s personal opinion, or are they writing fact-based coverage about an event? Sharing details about an election is different than a famous news anchor encouraging you to vote for a certain candidate. Look for words that share what the author feels as an individual, strong emotional words, and calls to action. If you find many of these, refer to the second step. Then make the decision to share based on your evaluation.
Step 4 - Do your research
We all love our friends and family, but sometimes our loved ones aren’t the best sources of unbiased information. If you see something in a friend’s social media status, pause. Can you find the same information on a credible news site? Did your friend give any indication of where they found that information? Is anything linked in the post? If not, don’t share it. Your friend’s original post has already reached you, so make sure to protect your social network by not sharing something you believe to be untrue.
These steps call for critical reflection, but this doesn’t mean you’ll spend 10 minutes analysing each and every post. Once you get into the routine of checking source information and distinguishing fact from fiction, you’ll be right back to your click-and-share routine. However, this time you’ll be clicking and sharing with the safety of your community in mind.
Perspectives & Context (Video)
Fake news in the digital era is one of the latest issues that has raised concern among intermediaries, governments, and end users. Fake news can be described as deliberately created, factually incorrect stories, which are spread by outlets to promote their own interests. With the growth of social media, fake news has proliferated; it has found a platform to disseminate these stories to a massive audience.
According to a recent analysis, fake news stories created more Facebook engagement than the top election stories from 19 of the main news outlets combined. On top of that, a Stanford study recently found that more than 80% of students cannot identify sponsored content from ‘real’ news stories.
How real is fake news?
How false news can spread
How to choose your news
How fake news does real harm
What is Media Literacy?
Perspectives & Context (Articles)
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