Written by Silas Grant –
In the age of social media, the distribution of news has become a 24-hour cycle. Those of us with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets have an insatiable desire to be the first ones to break stories. Some among us fall victim to articles that have outrageous, totally unbelievable titles and have no merit whatsoever.
Before posting an article on your timeline out of ignorance, here are some quick and simple ways to avoid being “trolled” by fake site and internet articles:
Let’s say you’re on Facebook, and a good friend posts an article that says “President Obama Hasn’t Paid Taxes in 15 Years via The Herald“.
Review the website
If you see a link posted on your timeline and you decide to click it, look at the entire site. This should be done if you’ve never heard of the site. Look at the description of the site in the “about” tab, if it has that tab. Check out other articles on the site. You may notice a pattern of outlandish articles. That will be a dead giveaway that the site can not be trusted. If you’re fortunate, some sites will expose that their site is satirical in nature.
Note: if there are a number of popups and ads that begin display on your screen, the site may be more dangerous than you know.
Conventional search engines
Take your curiosity to the search engine of your choice to see what the results will reveal. Is this a hot story? What is the main topic? Who is the main individual identified in the story? These questions will allow you to shape your search. Let’s use the hypothetical scenario posed. You could type “President Obama taxes”, “Does the President have to file taxes?”, or something like “Obama no tax returns”. If this is true, multiple sites would be reporting on this story. You would see sites that you recognize in the results of your search. If you don’t recognize any of the sites that corroborate the original story that you saw, chances are, the story you’ve clicked is fake. Remember, the web and its contributors (individuals and major news outlets) report on a 24-hour cycle. This means if the site you clicked on is the ONLY site reporting this story, more than likely, it is a fake story.
I’ve found Twitter to be the most credible social media source outside of search engines. In fact, Twitter has become a search engine in its own right. Using the search feature within Twitter allows you to see a curated view of the results of your search. You’re getting a mix of credible/verified accounts and other active users who are talking about all types of hot topics. Twitter is very useful when the topic is unfolding or breaking right at that moment or during that day/week. A topic such as the President of the United States not paying his/her taxes is certainly something that will populate as soon as you log in. For topics that aren’t so new or breaking, you may still be able to use the search engine to see what’s out there on Twitter.
Searching on Twitter could include copying and pasting the article title verbatim into the search field. You could also take those search engine examples that I used earlier to place in the search field as well. Using hashtags could also allow you to find results.
The advantage with Twitter is that users are not ashamed to expose fake articles and fake sites. So, this will help in your avoidance of bad information.
Sites to avoid
The following links provide info on some of the most notable satirical sites on the internet:
What’s the importance of all of this?
If you are socially connected to others, your reputation online precedes you. Imagine being connected to 500 people and all of them look at you as the person with bad information. We live in a connected society. This causes us to have a desire to be “in the know” and to disclose information and hot stories first. Strive to get it right, even if you sacrifice being the first one to break the story.