I admit, I’ve been just a little bit lazy this morning and I’ve let Kathryn do all the work for me (thanks Kathryn). She recently wrote an article for the Tech Inner Circle about “fake news” on social media – how to spot it and what to do about it.
And I thought it was such a useful topic at the moment, that I’d
steal it base my newsletter on her research.
So here goes…
There’s a common quote (often falsely attributed to Mark Twain) that goes something like “A lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on”. And in these days of social media where a tweet or Facebook post can “go viral” in mere minutes, it’s easy to be misled.
So how do you stop yourself from being hoodwinked?
Check the source
The first thing to do is to look at where the article/post/link or whatever has come from. Is it a reputable news website, like the BBC or Reuters? Is it from a national newspaper?
There are a few satirical news sites out there that publish deliberately “fake” news – my personal favourites are The Onion and The Daily Mash. But if you don’t know it’s a fake story, it’s not always completely obvious. If you aren’t sure, try Googling the name of the website and looking for an “about us” section – joke websites often include something there to show that they aren’t taking themselves too seriously.
I’d also be careful with articles from tabloid newspapers or gossip magazines – although I wouldn’t go as far as calling them fake news, they often use “clickbait” headlines that are hugely exaggerated to try to grab your attention. But when you actually read the article you discover that the answer to the headline “Are giant flesh-eating robots taking over the world?” is a simple “No.” And typically the ‘unnamed source close to the celebrity’ is actually code for “what my Aunt Hilda said at the hairdressers” rather than an actual quote from a relevant person.
Look carefully at memes and chain posts
One thing that’s very common on social media these days is memes (photos with text over the top).
Usually memes are designed to be funny – but unfortunately, sometimes the people who make these memes have a bit of an agenda to push. If you see a photograph with a lot of angry text over the top of it, without any link or source to back up what the text is saying, chances are it’s a fake post designed to make people angry at certain groups of society.
Another common thing with Facebook is chain text posts that tell people to “Share this to show your support for X”, or “I bet only my REAL friends will share this”. They’re designed to goad you into sharing the post by implying that if you don’t share it, you’re a bad person (you’re not). Generally these posts are harmless – nothing bad will happen to you if you do share them, but a lot of people find them quite annoying.
But there’s also been an increase in recent times of “advice” chain posts that just aren’t true, but that people are encouraged to share to try and help others. For example, there is absolutely no evidence that drinking hot liquids or gargling with antiseptics will stop you catching coronavirus. But many people have shared a message from “a friend of a friend who works for the NHS” that says just that. (And don’t even get me started on 5G! I mean, really?)
I completely understand why people would want to share this stuff – we all want to do our bit and help each other. But beware of conveniently vague sources giving advice that hasn’t been approved by the government or the World Health Organisation!
Thank you very much Kathryn
And thank you all for reading
PS If you’re a member of the Inner Circle, you can read Kathryn’s full article (which includes more examples and things to look out for) in the Library on the Inner Circle website.