(Fact) Check yourself before you wreck yourself (on Facebook)

05.17.2016

People scream into cyberspace, and friendships fall. Here's a handy primer on fact-checking a post before you hit like or share and invite a riot in the comments.

By K. A. Montinola

(Fact) Check yourself before you wreck yourself (on Facebook)

People scream into cyberspace and friendships fall. We should have called it The Great Unfollowing. It might be easy to think that the worst is over because elections are (basically) through, but the circus of mudslinging and misinformation isn’t something that cropped up because of the political season. This is endemic to places like Facebook, where a good number don’t always think before they click. While we support expressing oneself and communicating online, there’s something truly morale-destroying when posts that are designed merely to inflame pose as news and then grow to thousands of likes or shares.

So, given the number of online brawls we’ve seen happen over Facebook these past few months, I thought I’d lay out a handy primer on fact-checking a post before you hit like or share and invite a riot in the comments.

Read past the headline

A lot of headlines are purposefully sensational, but don’t let that turn you on or off. Sometimes you’ll notice an odd gap between the headline and the article, and you’re not imagining it. Often the editors, not the writers, pick the headlines that title the articles, with the goal of drawing people in.

Timestamp

How recent is the news? There is such a thing as “too soon” in news in the sense that if the event has just happened then you can’t expect that all the details are already available. Take for example the reports during the election that Mar Roxas had taken a picture of his receipt. The way the news spread you would think he had posed it underneath strobe lights and given it a photo shoot, when the reality is probably closer to: he was a presidential candidate and the media was there when he cast his vote.  

Even legitimate news outlets, such as Rappler, have made errors in their reporting in the past because they prioritise speed (news is a tough biz), so it’s worth keeping in mind that news develops over time.

The timestamp is especially important to look at regarding events such as calamities or disasters, about which the spread of misinformation can actually affect people’s lives. If there’s anything doubtful about the information, you can call it too-early-to-tell and wait.

Images

If anything was more inflammatory than long, emotion-fuelled text-based posts over these recent elections, it was the images. I’d like to think it is more obvious when photos are fake, but they’re also easier to misattribute. Fake screenshots are also a problem, as they are a way people are framed to have said things they have not (think of your favourite meme accounts on Twitter or Instagram).  

All images can be reverse image searched (Google or Tin Eye are options for this), so even those pesky infographics claiming to be from legitimate studies or surveys can be traced back to whomever posted them first. We might not have a seamless tool for detecting photoshopping in a photo, but we can at least see who posted it first.

Sources, sources, sources

This ought to be everyone’s first instinct on the Internet. Does the post link to anywhere? If it does, then where? Know the difference between a national news outlet and a tabloid. Cleverly written satirical sites aren’t reliable news either.

If the article has an author, then you’ve hit the jackpot, because then you can look online for other pieces the author has written and see what kind of work they do, how reliable their word might be, etc.

If there’s no source cited, and the gentle “where did you hear this, exactly” question goes unanswered, then you can bet the post is baseless. The best kind of fake news posts are the ones that use sources that are nigh impossible to check, i.e. “I heard on the radio that…” or “I heard from someone who knows him that…”

Is checking worth the effort?

So why fact-check, especially when it’s just Facebook, where people often read the headline at most and then scroll on with their lives?

Besides the obvious (it’s no insignificant thing that so many Filipinos are on it all the time), Facebook is used as a kind of magic mirror. Posts are ‘validated’ through likes and shares, and what you like or share ends up taken as an expression of who you are and what you support—just perhaps not in the way you intend. However small a way it is, everyone is responsible for what they share. So check it! 

 

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