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7 steps to avoid being fooled by fake social media news :: WRAL.com


Unfortunately, misinformation on social media is nothing new. But a number of unique circumstances recently – the global pandemic and a controversial presidential election – have created an environment that helps bring about even more of it.

“Misinformation thrives best when people are fearful, angry, and insecure,” said Suzannah Gonzales, director of education and content for the News Literacy Project, a non-partisan nonprofit that provides resources to help people deliver intelligent news and information consume.

During unprecedented events, people are driven to seek explanations and they may even want to find someone or something to blame, Gonzales explains.

From fraudulent news sites to heavily biased blogs to fraudulent images and deepfake videos, misleading content can be packaged in a number of different ways. New research from the University of Colorado Boulder has shed some light on who is most likely to hit the share button to distribute all of this fake content.

For starters, Facebook tends to be a more fertile breeding ground for fake news than Twitter, according to the CU Boulder study published in the Journal of Human Communication Research in October 2020. Conservative spectrum and those who lack confidence in conventional media are most likely to share misleading content, according to the study.

In celebration of National News Literacy Week, here are seven steps courtesy of NLP that can help you spot fake content.

1. Check your emotions

Are you angry, scared, curious, outraged, or excited? According to NLP educators, misinformation is more likely to abduct rational minds with emotional appeals.

NLP also encourages people to “sanitize themselves before sharing” to prevent the spread of viral rumors, Gonzales says. Do this by taking a break first and making sure your emotions don’t get the upper hand. Then, check out the comments to see if anyone has verified the information for facts. Do a quick search in your browser: turn the claim you’re reviewing into a question. Reply to the person who shared the information and ask for the original source or any evidence to support the claim.


2. Determine the purpose of the information

Incorrect information can be packaged in a number of formats. Gonzales recommends that you “think like a journalist” and do some research to learn more about the source of information. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is what I read, watch or hear a news report? A split opinion? An advertisement? A satirical piece?
  • Does the source have an “About Us” or similar page?
  • Can you find biographical information or contact information on his staff and contributors?

Glen Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Northern Georgia whose research focuses on the influence of partisan media on public opinion, also recommends being aware of mock and obscure news sources.

“One insidious way to fake credibility is to assign a website a source that looks very much like a reputable news source,” says Smith. “Instead of nbcnews, it could be ncbnews, for example.”


3. Be aware of your own prejudices

Before consuming any content, do you assume or hope that the information presented to you is truthful? Or wrong?

Affirmation bias – the tendency to look for information that reinforces your beliefs – can play a role, explains NLP. People depend on accepting new information uncritically if they support what they want to believe, says Smith.

“So if you read a headline that is shocking but confirms your views, you should probably be especially critical,” he says.

Another thing to keep in mind: The Gallup / Knight Foundation reported that Americans often share news with others, but mostly with like-minded people.

AP Photo / Altaf Qadri

4. Look at the message

After NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash in January 2020, a fake picture that showed an alleged tweet from Bryant claiming he had information that would lead to the arrest of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went viral. The picture shows that he sent the tweet on January 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. the helicopter that Bryant was in crashed just before 10 a.m. that same day. (PolitiFact.com, a nonprofit fact-checking website operated by the Poynter Institute, debunked the claim.)

The manipulated viral image, says Gonzales, is a prime example of counterfeit content being packaged “too perfectly”.

When considering a message, you should also consider whether it is openly or aggressively partisan, and whether it uses charged language, excessive punctuation (!!!), or capital letters for emphasis. Another red flag is when it claims to have a secret or tells you something that “the media” doesn’t want you to know, according to NLP.

AP Photo / Mark J. Terrill

5. Find more information

Americans are increasingly getting their information from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but incorrect information on these sites can quickly go from a snowball to an avalanche. As social media platforms struggle to limit the spread of false and dangerous information while allowing free expression, Consumer Reports points out that the rules for misinformation vary widely across platforms.

When looking for more information, NLP recommends looking to see if reputable news outlets report the same thing. Has the information been challenged or debunked by independent fact checkers like Snopes, Politifact or FactCheck.org? Can you tell where the information first appeared?

While social media platforms are now flagging posts with incorrect information or without important context, you can’t rely on social media sites to check the facts for you, Gonzales says.

While the social media giants are cracking down on misinformation, according to Chrysalis Wright, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida and founding director of the university’s Media and Migration Lab. (However, following the January 6 riot in the Capitol, web hosting service Amazon suspended Parler for violent posts and threats, and Apple and Google removed Parler from their platforms. Although it’s technically back online, it’s still lagging with limited capacity .)

AP Photo / Richard Drew

6. Go deeper into the source

Take a look around the source page. Does the source have guidelines for correcting errors immediately and transparently? Also, look for disclaimers on the website to see if the content is flagged as satire.

Fake websites have also been known to point to sources that don’t actually exist or actually say the opposite of what the article claims, Smith says.


7. Go deeper into the content itself

The NLP gives these helpful prompts to determine the legitimacy of content:

  • Search in the byline. Is the content creator a real person?
  • Is the reported information out of date or out of date?
  • Can you confirm that important data such as the date, time and location are shared?
  • Look for quotations that are used to see if they are presented in context and correctly.
  • Do a reverse image search on photos and graphics to see if they appear elsewhere on the web. Have the images been changed or shown in a different context?

The snack here? Fabricated news and content can be packaged in many clever ways. However, if you keep these steps in mind, you can filter out fraudulent content and be a savvy consumer of information.

This article is part of the second annual National News Literacy Week, January 25-29, a national awareness campaign promoting news literacy and the role of a free press in American democracy. The week is part of an ongoing partnership between Simplemost’s parent company, The EW Scripps Company, and the News Literacy Project. visit NewsLiteracyWeek.org to test your own messaging literacy and commit to having messaging literacy.

This story originally appeared on Simplemost. Checkout Simplemost for additional stories.

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