It’s a typical Tuesday night. Books are strewn, coffee is fresh, and Facebook is lighting up your laptop screen. As you flick past photos, election memes, and posts from that one friend who would love the whole world to join their work-out league, your eye lands on an article titled, “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS… Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News.” You’re intrigued. And you have a choice. 1. You keep on scrolling but mention this startling news in conversation with friends in the DC later to see what others are saying about it. 2. You click on the article and skim the first paragraph or so to discover the details. 3. After glancing through the text, you visit a fact checking source like Scopes to test the validity of the story.
If you haven’t already caught on, Hillary did NOT sell weapons to ISIS as this story posted on August 4th led some to believe. In the months before and following the November election, many false or satirical articles like this one were posted and shared on social media causing a colossal wave of misinformation across the United States. BuzzFeed News did an analysis of the public’s engagement with the top twenty mainstream news articles and the top twenty fake news articles from February to November of this year. By the time of the election, the number of false articles being shared across social media had surpassed the valid ones.
The impact of this phenomena was so strong that it caused The International Fact-Checking Network to publish an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking Facebook to take more responsibility for the spread of misinformation. With an increasing number of U.S. Americans getting their news from social media (62% according to a study done by PEW Research Center earlier this year), the issue has become impossible to ignore. Of Facebook users, 44 percent say they it is their primary source of news. Facebook has expressed their intent to address the problem, possibly creating algorithms that would pair any fake articles with a real one debunking it, or preventing them from appearing at all.
But it’s not enough to leave it all to the machines and to the platforms where content is shared. We need to take our share of responsibility for the stories we might be spreading.
- Read beyond the title. There is more to the story than the few words that might slide down your screen. Don’t share without reading the article and don’t assume that just because it made a headline that it is true.
- Know the source. Who is putting the information out there? Are they credible? Familiar? Google their history or look them up on Scopes. At the very least, it’s important to know the angle the source is coming from. The people putting the material out determine the verbiage and connotation. In news, presentation affects the way the reader or viewer receives and responds to information.
- Test the story against other news outlets. Is the same story being told on the radio or in other online articles or printed papers?
- Spread the word. If you suspect an article that a friend or family member has posted is invalid, let them know. Show them a credible source that they can use instead.