How to Critically Evaluate “News” on Social Media

Is social media a valid source of information? It can be.  But for us to sift through and evaluate the tremendous amount of material found online requires a huge amount of effort and work!

Social media have democratized media content production to the point where many of the most-trafficked websites contain material produced by US…not the large media companies.  This is a great thing!  But this also put the onus of responsibility on us to determine what is valid, meaningful and true.

This democratization of media production means that we can create our own material and share whatever we find easily at the click of a mouse.  But many times, we create and share what we believe rather than what is fact.

I often wonder: do people who share false material do it deliberately? Or out of ignorance?  Either way, the receiver of these messages needs to take a few steps.

1. Who is the source of this message?  Determining the source can help you find out if the message was created by a reputable source (look for the blue checkmark on Twitter!) or by a valid Facebook group.  But remember – there are many sites out there that can create very believable images.

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2. What’s the purpose or intent of the message?  What techniques, images or hashtags are used to get your attention?

Using a tool like Google’s ‘reverse image search’ can help you find an original photo that perhaps has been ‘repurposed’ to convey a particular message.  Sometimes the photo might be valid, but actually relates to a completely different (and older) story.  This photo is legit, but it is NOT from the scene described here.

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3. Use your internal ‘BS’ detector. Many times I’ve seen these messages fly around and think: ‘If this was legit, wouldn’t we see it on CNN?’  If it seems too inflammatory, it probably is.

4. Be aware that the construction of a message sometimes leads to an increase in that message’s credibility.  We all have the tools to create messages, true or not. We have access to photos, photo-editing software, meme generators, etc.  We can create social media accounts with any photos or names to make it look more credible. Anyone with an internet connection can create a very believable message.

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5. The Snopes website is your friend.  Get to know it well, and don’t be afraid to call out anyone on social media who perpetuates hoaxes and falsities. Also, don’t be afraid to call out Snopes if they make a mistake!

The good news about the internet is that anything goes.  The bad news about the internet is that anything goes.  And we can find statistics online to back up basically ANY proposition.  So it’s time for us to activate our filters and become media literate when it comes to information on social media!

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