Identifying fake news is as easy as sharing
Spreading lies and false information is easy but it relies on intellectually lazy people to do the dirty work. One or two clicks to check out the validity of information before sharing it can save you a lot of embarrassment and regret.
Within minutes of President Trump’s announcement that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris climate accord a screen shot of a tweet, purportedly from California congresswoman Maxine Waters started appearing in my Facebook news feed. The tweet showed two pictures of Venice Beach hours apart at high tide and low tide and was offer as proof that climate change was a real phenomenon. Regardless of your position on the issue, the normal response is to conclude that Waters is an idiot. She may be but the fact is she never posted any such tweet. It was a fake.
Of course, checking to see if she had indeed tweeted that was just as easy as sharing it, but apparently nobody who did share it took the time and consideration of doing that. This morning, in the wake of the London Bridge terror attacks there was another supposed tweet from Waters showing up in my new feed, urging people to be concerned about the safety of Muslims who were coerced into acting out by the decision to abandon the climate change agreement. Once again this tweet proved to be fake.
To be fair, many politicians on both sides of the aisle make this kind of falsehood easier to believe. The more a politician is known for making controversial statements and the more outspoken they are, the easier it is for the intellectually lazy to accept. From there it’s just one click to spread to all their friends and followers who now have the authority of the original sharer to hold responsible.
In a world where anyone can become a publisher just by buying a domain name and setting up blogging software, spreading lies and tricking gullible people has become child’s play. Anyone with minimal effort can create a completely false narrative and pollinate a hungry hive of willing worker bees to feed the social media outlets with deceit at the speed of light. The truth is checking the veracity of a story can be just as easy, if only people were willing.
The first step is to go directly the the purported source’s Twitter feed, website or other social media pages to see if the statement is there. Next, you may want to check reputable news outlets that are established and well known on all sides of the bias spectrum. Chances are if MSNBC and FoxNews are both reporting the same incident, regardless of the spin they put on it, the story is true. The chances of a internet based small company scooping the big news outlets is remote at best. Also check out sites like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, the Washington Post Fact Checker and PolitiFact.com. Although timeliness of a false story may mean that those sites have not yet caught up with the lie, they do a pretty good job of highlighting the big offenders. If all else fails, try Googling the headline and see how many disreputable sources are featuring it.