A couple weeks after the Patriots defeated the Seahawks in the 2015 Super Bowl, MVP quarterback Tom Brady reportedly died in a car accident. Teenage boys around the country were tweeting, Instagramming and sharing the story on Facebook. Sadly, many adults believed the bogus story as well. The story was not true, but yet is still being circulated around the Internet today.
According to Pew Research Center, 74 percent of online adults use social networking sites. Thirty percent of the general population receive news from social media. These social media sites are full of unlimited information. How can we not be naive and quickly agree with every new idea that is being presented or every story that is being told?
Here are three tools to help us distinguish if something is true on social media:
1. Be a skeptic
Often we see large amounts of people circulating the same stories. Just because a story is viral, does not mean it is true. Ravi Somaiya and Leslie Kaufman write for the New York Times, "Truth has never been an essential ingredient of viral content on the Internet."
Google "truth" on the Internet and you'll find about 673,000,000 results. While the Internet is an incredible tool, you must know exactly what you are looking for in order to find it. You'll often find much more than you were looking for as well.
Doubt everything you read. Don't be so quick to repost something or share a story just because 10 of your friends have done the same thing.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said, "Doubt can only be removed by action."
2. Consider the source
If you were reading information about cookies, which source would be more credible, Oscar the Grouch or the Cookie Monster? Simple answer, right? Then why do we constantly believe misinformation from anyone and everyone on the Internet. There are plenty of Oscar the Grouch's trying to sell garbage in the form of appetizing, delicious and enticing cookies.
As you consider the source of information you find on social media sites, you must first determine the source and the source's agenda. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself in determining a source's credibility:
1. Why is this person sharing the information?
2. Has he or she done their research by citing other sources?
3. Does the source work for a credible organization such as a reputable news source, reliable company or government agency?
4. Is the source sponsored or trying to sell something to you?
5. Is the source sharing fact, opinion or propaganda?
Once you determine if the source of the information is credible, you can then begin to determine truthfulness.
3. Do your research
After you have been skeptical and checked your source, you must now do your own research.
Jihii Jolly writes in the Columbia Journalism Review, "In Stony Brook University's news literacy course for undergraduates…teaches students the V.I.A. method, a three-step check in which students attempt to Verify a news item by looking for creation dates and multiple, reputable sources, and evaluate the organization providing the information as Independent and Authentic by looking up background and social media connections."
We must first verify, by making sure we can find multiple reputable sources reporting the same information. We must also check the date of the information. Many stories or claims may be outdated. After we determine whether the information is by an independent and authentic source, we can then know for ourselves whether what we are reading is true or false.
Unfortunately, as Jolly reports, "the issue is twofold: Exposure to verification tools is zero to none, and social reward of sharing online far outweighs the incentive to verify."
Most of us are everyday users. We are not journalists trying to report a story. We want to quickly scroll through social media, find out what's going on in our friend's lives and maybe catch up on recent news of the day. We don't want to take the time to research something. If that's the case, don't take the time to share something if you're not sure it's true.
By using these three tools, we can feel confident we are receiving and sharing the truth. We can enjoy our social media experience and know we are not getting duped or buying into false information.