We are exiting an era of journalism where the credibility of news agencies was taken for granted. A mere decade ago, it was safe to assume that the daily paper or the evening news was only publishing the most credible information. Today, when “news” can be created and shared by anyone with an internet-connected device, it’s more important than ever to hold ourselves accountable for the part that we take in sharing this information.
Back in the 1980’s, Heather Locklear could tell 2 of her friends about her Faberge shampoo, and they’d tell two friends, and they’d tell two friends, and so on, until we all had super-amazing, voluptuous hair. (Click to watch the video)
Today, when we read posts that align with our pre-conceived notions of what’s right and wrong, we decide to share them with our friends, who also read them and share them with friends. Within hours a post can go viral, regardless of its accuracy. In sharing these stories, we aren’t just affecting our chances of having a good or a bad hair day like we were back in the 80s. Today we are changing people’s lives, we are influencing political outcomes, and sometimes even jeopardizing the safety of others. It’s more important than ever to double-check the information that we are sharing to make sure it’s true.
I’ve put together a list of 10 things that you should consider before you share an image, post, or news article on social media:
1.Don’t just read the headline
According to mediashift.org, “many news organizations pair an article about a rumor or unverified claim with a headline that declares it to be true. This is a fundamentally dishonest practice.”
Is the headline sensational? Don’t share it before you actually read the article. Some websites are counting on the fact that you will not read the article and will take the headline at face value.
2. Cross-check the information
Especially if an article, post or image seems sensational or hard to believe, Google some of the keywords that describe it. Are other news sources reporting on the same facts? Is there an obvious bias or another side to the story? Consider this information before sharing it.
3. Do a reverse image search
A widespread trick that sites use to get you to share an article is to use an old or fake photo in conjunction with a sensational headline. Sometimes graphic or sensational images from another time or place are used to sway opinion regarding a current event, such as this picture from Woodstock that was used to influence opinions about the media coverage of the North Dakota pipeline protests. This post used an image from a different time or place and passed it off as a current photo.
Sometimes the photo is an outright fake, as was the case with the photo of the shark swimming in the street after a Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, Matthew, and other flooding events around the world.
How can you keep from getting fooled by a fake image? You can do a Google Reverse Image search. Instead of typing in keywords, you can upload a picture to Google, and it will find other pages that feature the same image, as well as visually similar images.
4. Who is the writer?
Is the author’s name listed in the article? If not, is it from a blog written by one person? What other types of articles does the same author write? Is it satire? Is there a political bias? Is it an advertisement? Is it overly sensational? If you answer these questions before you share an article, this can mean the difference between sharing an article that’s written to fool someone vs. one that’s intended to inform.
5. Is it from a legitimate, unbiased source?
One of the easiest ways to decipher whether an article is fake or biased is to look at the source. An article from theonion.com may seem real, but the entire site is satire. An article from foxnews.com is likely to have a conservative bias. An article from The Huffington Post is probably going to have a liberal bias.
How do you figure out which sources are biased or satire? Take a look at the language used in headlines. Does ever article seem to serve a particular political agenda? If so, there is probably a political bias to the site. Do headlines seem silly or sarcastic? It may be satire. Is the site full of advertisements and is the article split into multiple pages? It might be click bait. These types of sources (satire, hyperpartisan or commercial/clickbait) tend to stretch the truth to carry out their agenda.
6. Is it fake or a hoax?
Websites exist that can help you figure out whether or not sites, articles, images, and rumors are real or fake. If something seems too good to be true, copy and paste the URL of the article in question, or plug in a few keywords to one of the following tools:
Myths, urban legend, hoaxes:
7. Is the source biased?
You might not appreciate the importance of deciding if an article or website has a political or ideological bias. The reason that this is important to consider is because pages with a hyperpartisan slant to the right or the left tend to publish false or misleading information more than those that fall closer to the middle of the political spectrum. This is not to say that all information from these sites is untrue, but before you share an article, consider the bias and check for accuracy.
Bias is usually very easy to find by looking at the title of the site and other articles published, but if you are unsure, give this tool a try: https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/
8. Did the author cite any sources?
Does the author make claims that are not backed by real data? Where does the writer get his or her information? Does the author link to or name the sources used in the article? Examine those sources and be skeptical of articles that do not cite any.
9. Are the statistics valid?
A recent study found that 74% of all stories published online use incorrect statistics. Double-checking all statistics for accuracy is important. If you were to double-check the statistics that I used in this paragraph by doing a simple google search, you’d likely find that I completely made up that 74% value. Gotcha!
Figure out if statistics are correct, and find the source that generated the statistics. You will want to consider any bias that the curator of the statistics may have.
10. What are the consequences?
Think about the implications of sharing before you click the share button. If you share a post that isn’t true, you’re contributing to the larger problem that we have concerning fake news and inaccurate information online. A 2016 study by Pew Research found that 62% of adults get news from social media. Like it or not, this is where people are getting information.
If you are sharing information that is untrue, you are contributing to a problem that can significantly influence people’s lives. We elect our government leaders based on information that we get online. People’s lives can be adversely affected by viral content.
Remember that there are always two sides to a story. If we are only reading one side in an article, we should seek out the other. If we continue to share information blindly without doing any investigation, we are contributing to a problem that can not only spread misinformation, but we can ruin people’s lives.
Think and research before you share a post.