YOU HAVE PROBABLY, like many others, found yourself in a situation where you came across news on social media that first angered you, only to discover a few minutes later that it was fake news and that your anger was completely unfounded.
You would see the same news later on the profile of a friend or acquaintance and then you would be angered by the fact that someone shared fake news without checking. Everyone knows this very well, the internet is full of fake news, scammers and spreaders of fake lies and misinformation, and day by day it is getting harder to find your way in the forest of such content.
But Adi Robertson of The Verge has put together a guide to avoiding lies on social media, and that’s something many of us can benefit greatly from.
Step One: When to worry
While it’s hard to be vigilant all the time, there are some warning signs that can let you know it’s working in questionable content.
For starters, if something seems to you to be too good (or too bad) to be true, it’s time to take a deeper look at the content and try to figure out if it’s a lie. Suspicious texts can often be identified by trying to provoke anger in the more sensitive ones.
If something in you provokes an extremely strong reaction, it’s time to take a closer look at the text.
Examine information from multiple sources. If it is news that deals with specific crimes, there are also legal documents from which it is possible to extract information about what the authorities think happened in a particular case.
If it is a statement, look for the original interview in which the person stated it because few journalists will jeopardize their job by fabricating a statement or an entire interview. It is not impossible for such a thing to happen, but the chances are slim, especially when it comes to verified media that (at least intentionally) do not spread misinformation. Of course, journalists will sometimes have to protect the identity of the source.
Some of the most important stories are the result of documents leaked to the public. And while the serious media will do their best not to distort the facts, there are those who will use the documents to draw incredible conclusions that too often have nothing to do with the truth. Therefore, study the documents on which the articles are based.
Step Two: How to check the link
The news that many publish very often comes from dubious sources and while many will conclude that obscure blogs and portals are not the best place to get information, many still share news from such sources and do so without verification.
When the news is published, who signs the text, where it was published, whether it was published elsewhere, whether they cited sources of information, whether the quotes are correct, when the photos or videos were taken, and whether the story you share is current at all. These are all questions you need to find an answer to.
And it may seem to you that it is too much of a hassle for one piece of news, the fact is that you live in other times and that part of the responsibility for properly informing falls on you as well. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
Step Three: How to find the context
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Sometimes the news is obviously fake and it doesn’t take you long to conclude that it’s nonsense. But disinformation spreaders sometimes have a more subtle approach. They omit important details, exaggerate or use real news to attract people and then serve them bad information.
Sometimes these are legitimate mistakes of journalists, but this is not always the case. It’s not always easy to recognize fakes, but there are some things that will help you scratch deeper.
Is the source a satirical portal, where does the information come from, what are the actual proportions of the story being transmitted, are people really upset or is it about one person’s status and are there differences in information from portal to portal.
Step Four: Weigh the Evidence
At this stage you have probably covered all the pitches and you are more or less clear about what it is all about. But if it’s legitimate news, it’s time for the hardest part of the story.
Of course you don’t want to believe everything you read, but uncritically doubting everything you read is equally bad. Some sources are simply more verified than others, and expert opinions are more reliable than amateur research. If you believe only what you have seen for yourself, it is an extremely limited view of the world.
The goal is to identify what’s wrong with the story, which parts are more complicated and subjective, and which are likely to be accurate, and how much all together should change your attitude and behavior.
One has to wonder whether some important facts have been missing and whether they may have been twisted. Ask yourself and what is most important in that story, what can happen if you are wrong and do you need to share that news?
Each of us found ourselves in a situation where we believed a story we didn’t need to, and sometimes the news just isn’t true. Wrong sources, falsified documents and incorrect quotes. If you share news on social media, it is inevitable that you will share something incorrect at some point.
But that doesn’t mean that nothing is true and that all portals are equally fake.
Being overwhelmed by everything on this list is also not good. A critical departure from everything you read can create the assumption that all portals are lying and that is by no means a good thing.
But checking information can be a fun thing. Critical thinking is not synonymous with doubt, and research is not necessarily finding holes in stories. The goal is to better understand the story or scratch beneath the surface in order to check if the people spreading the information are malicious and / or incompetent.