In this age of advanced technology, the average person has access to more information than ever before. But that wealth of information comes with a heavy price. Through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, misinformation can spread with unprecedented speed, leading to extreme polarization and a dangerously misled, distrustful populace. According to a Pew Research Center study just after the 2016 US election, 64% of adults believe that fake news causes a great deal of confusion, and 23% admitted to having shared it themselves, whether intentionally or not.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Through the use of a few simple verification strategies, you can combat misinformation on your newsfeed and social media pages. This is how to recognize internet falsehoods, based on the Check Please! online curriculum written by Mike Caulfield.
- The Wikipedia Check
Growing up, many of us were taught never to use Wikipedia as an academic source due to its crowd-sourced editing methods. While it’s true that its factual content should often be taken with a grain of salt, Wikipedia is not without its uses. When reading any article from an unfamiliar news source, take a few seconds to do the following. Copy and paste the website domain name into a web search, followed by “Wikipedia”. This will bring up the Wikipedia page for that news source, which can tell you information such as the publication’s age, readership, and budget, as well as its political leanings and any controversies it has been associated with. This information is invaluable when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of a news source.
- Stop, Don’t Scroll
When you see a story or a piece of information presented on your social media feed, don’t just scroll past it – stop and look it up. Oftentimes, fact-checking sites such as Snopes will have checked viral posts and will tell you whether the post is misleading. If not, check whether you can find any news coverage or articles about the supposed event and try to locate the earliest coverage. If you can’t find anything, chances are that it isn’t true.
- Reverse Photo Search
Sometimes, you’ll see photos on the Internet that seem suspicious, whether due to something about the photo itself or the context in which it is presented. In this case, it is possible to do a reverse photo search on Google Chrome. On a computer, right-click the photo; on a smartphone or tablet, press and hold on it. A task bar will pop up, with the option to search Google for the image. Click on this option. From there, you can find webpages associated with the image. This makes it possible to track down the picture’s original source. If it’s a credible news source, you’re good to go!
- What Are Your Sources?
These strategies are an invaluable way to recognize misinformation, but an equally important part of being well-informed is having reliable news sources. Think: where am I getting my information? If the answer is “primarily social media”, you’d be much better off identifying an independent, professional, and balanced news organization.
The internet has brought about a lot of good things, but it has also brought into being a chaotic and overwhelming information marketplace, where it can be difficult to know who to trust and what to believe. These are just a few strategies to make the Internet more manageable. Hopefully, they will help you be better equipped to navigate this ever-changing landscape.
Anderson, Janna, and Lee Rainie. “The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 17 Aug. 2020, http://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/10/19/the-future-of-truth-and-misinformation-online/.