Q: The more I’m on social media sites, the more I get confused about what’s going on, who said what, and everything to do with the news. How can I ascertain if something I see on Facebook or another site is legit and accurate or fake news?
A: My admittedly somewhat glib answer is if you’re seeing it on social media, it’s probably fake news! That’s not entirely fair, however, and this really is one of the most important questions of our era, so let’s talk about veracity and fact checking online.
Recent research claims that over 50% of social media users believe the information they see is filtered or censored. That number is even higher for people who identify as Republicans; they view most social media sites as left-leaning.
At the same time, sites like Facebook and Twitter report that they have fact-checking teams, are blocking thousands of fake news channels and removing millions of bogus posts. And yet, I go online and am disheartened by the obviously fake info and memes shared and liked by my friends. Heck, I’ve even explained that they’re fake just to have them respond “but it could be true and that’s good enough for me.” In other words, it’s fake, but I like it. Our society is awash in misinformation and propaganda.
While Facebook can mark a post as fake or inaccurate, it’s still better to be able to do your own research. I use Google search for this task. If someone says “10 million Georgia voters…” it’s a matter of seconds to search for the number of registered voters in the state (around 7 million in total) and to cross-check the specific cited information. Quite often it’s false, exaggerated or skewed to ignore additional data or context.
Google works, but which third-party verification sites are actually trustworthy? I have found that Snopes.com is reliable, as is FactCheck.org, NewsBusters.org and PolitiFact.org. You can also reach out to your local librarian; they are experts at evaluating online resources. At the Boulder Public Library, for example, you can ask about the veracity of a site through the Ask A Librarian service at ask.boulderlibrary.org.
Over time I have found that I can not only ascertain the bias of my friends, but learn who tends to share skewed, inaccurate, inflammatory or just plain fake memes, pictures, “facts” and other information. Those are the same people I gradually come to ignore or even filter out of my social channels.
And if you’re curious, I react that way to people on both sides of the political spectrum. Fake news is fake news, whether you’re liberal or conservative. I’m all for people having the freedom to share what they believe (with some constraints) but I’m also appreciative I don’t have to wade through it all every time I want to check Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Dave Taylor has been involved with the online world since before the launch of the Internet and runs the popular AskDaveTaylor.com tech help site. You can also find AskDaveTaylor on Facebook and check out the AskDaveTaylor YouTube channel.