According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 28% of Americans were “constantly online” in 2019. That number has almost certainly grown in 2020 and has only been amplified by community lockdowns worldwide.
Social media has become more than just a place to share updates with friends and family or watch funny videos of cats and dogs. It has become a place to share reactions to current events and to fight about social issues.
Facebook is far and away the biggest social network in the world, with 2.7 billion active users in the second quarter of 2020. It is also the most profitable platform for peddlers of fake news and fake viral videos.
We all think we can spot false information from a mile away. But in an era of short attention spans and millions of dollars spent on content farming, no one is really immune to a striking headline or an intriguing video still.
Here are some simple ways to avoid being a victim to misinformation on social media:
- Double check the source – This is the most common and effective weapon in the fight against fake news. Before you share or retweet that post that made you angry, take the time to check the source. If it’s from a reputable news site that cites its sources and clearly lists the exact date and timestamp the story was posted, then great. But it’s from a news aggregate site that’s more ads than real content, just scroll past it and move on.
Sometimes it’s not as easy as that. Maybe someone uploaded a picture meant to incite a reaction and it crosses your feed. More often than not, a quick Google search of even a vague description of a viral photo will lead to more details about it. When you are armed with more information, then you can decide if you want to spread it even further.
- Read further than the headline – This is an extension of the previous tip, and just as important, especially when it comes to sharing news stories. Websites are engaged in a vicious fight to attract the most views at any cost. Usually, this means they will construct outrageous headlines that can get the most reaction, some of which do not reflect the news story at all. Before retweeting or sharing, take the time to skim the meat of the article.
- Double check your own motives – This also applies to our reactions to what we see on social media. If something elicits such a visceral response, it is almost certainly created precisely for that. If something is too good or too awful to be true, it most likely is.
At the end of the day, we are responsible for what we pass on. Before clicking the share button, dig a little deeper – why do you want your friends and followers to see this? Will it contribute to the larger conversation? Will it help or inspire anyone who sees it?