First of all, sorry for using the word “fake”.

It’s become overused.  So many falsehoods are swirling around the Internet that it’s now necessary to sort out what and who is real.

The time for actively questioning what you see is now.  The time for knowing when to question is now, especially ahead of an election.

We don’t have time to question everything.  There is no time to learn how gravity is real, how electricity works, how long gestation in mice occurs.

So, when do we need to stop and question? 

We grannies know there is a special device we all have that alerts us to trouble!

That is our emotional sense of truth.  If it grabs, thrills, angers or shocks you, you need to be aware of your emotion, and step back.

  • Is likely to be true?

  • What is the information’s source?

  • Who benefits from this statement?

Google it.  Take a few key words from the article, and google them together.

  • How many links do you get?

  • Are they mostly from the same source that you got it from in the first place?

Look at links not associated with the original source.

  • Does the site’s author seem educated on the topic?

  • Does the site identify the author or authors?

  • Can you contact them?  Do they respond?

  • Are the sites well known?

  • If the site is unfamiliar,  Google it with a key word like ‘reliability’.

  • Are the news stories similar across a variety of well known sites?

(Well known sites include most local and national TV stations, networks, local and national newspapers and magazines.

Blogs, podcasts and sites you need to pay for are not generally good information sources, unless the blog’s or podcast’s author is highly regarded among recognized experts.)

If story details are very different in in some sites, those few sites may be very biased, and not entirely truthful.

In Social Media, we often come across commenters who post something that grabs, thrills, angers or shocks.

  • Tune your emotions to how you respond

  • Ask yourself if this is likely to be true.

  • Click on the commenter’s profile. Is there a picture of a person or a thing?

This doesn’t prove someone is real or not, but it’s a beginning.  If there is no picture, or if the same picture is used over and over again, that’s questionable.

  • Click on their friend list. If it’s tiny, it might indicate someone is creating a fake profile.

(Some people hide their friend list, so you’ll see a ‘nothing to show’ message.  This doesn’t indicate if someone is real or not, because modern users choose this privacy setting.)

If you can see a person’s timeline, and it indicates they are new to social media, that’s an indication you may be dealing with a fake.

Fake profiles happen.

Some people are determined to spread a slanted message, so they choose a profile name that may belong to someone else, or just be made up.

Organizations employ people to spread a slanted message.

These employees can be anywhere on the planet.  They toss out comments, but don’t necessarily stick around to defend their position, or don’t stick around for long. They’re too busy creating more inflammatory messages across the internet!

‘Bots also spread slanted messages.

‘Bots are programs that use key words to seek posts on certain topics.  They leave comments that benefit their organization.  These messages may not make a lot of sense, or they make quote an earlier comment, and then ridicule it with a standard phrase. Bot profiles usually don’t have a picture or any details to indicate they are a real person.

But sometimes you can see that the commenter is a local person posting dangerous or cruel words.

Studies show there are ‘dark personalities’ who enjoy causing upset on the Internet, because they can.

Sadists, narcissists, sociopaths entertain themselves by insulting and shocking people.  They may not even believe what they’ve written, they’ve only typed what they have because they want to disturb you.

So, be aware of your own emotions when coming across opinions and news stories.

If you’ve been grabbed, thrilled, angered or shocked, pay attention to your response.  Question whether the opinions or stories are likely to be valid.  Do your research by checking out the story or the commenter.

Even after checking the sources or a profile, you may still feel in your gut that something is wrong, but not be able to see why you feel that way.

Studying logical fallacies can help you to identify why some statements seem off.

Now, more than ever, organizations use social media to spread  falsehoods. Trust your gut and do your research!  Democracy depends on you!

Suggested reading:

More about untrustworthy commenters

Logical fallacy study

Critical Thinking Tips

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