Find out if it’s fact or fiction before sharing an article with your friends and family.
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.
Joining #YLAIVerifies will help you use the power at your fingertips wisely to protect you — and your social networks — from the dangers of false information. Follow the steps below and join the YLAI Network to make social media a safer and more accurate place for your communities.
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 a href=”https://fordham.libguides.com/FakeNews/Statistics”>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.
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 organization? Of joining a protest?
Always make sure to give yourself time to think before you share and act.
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.
4. Do more 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 analyzing 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.
By Sarah Smith – Sarah Smith is a student at the College of William & Mary, studying government and gender, sexuality and women’s studies.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.
Este artículo también está disponible en español.