Updated: December 2016
Seen something online that you’re not entirely sure is accurate? Do you want to verify something before you pass it on to your friends? This article may help.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that the information we share on the Internet is accurate. And those of us that deliberately shirk this responsibility are helping turn it into a cesspool of misinformation, hearsay and lies.
In the vast majority of cases we see, determining if something is fake can be achieved in mere seconds by using any one of these easy-to-follow steps.
5. Go directly to the source. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
If something you hear on social media mentions a specific person, company or entity, there’s a decent chance they already know about it, since it may have already gone viral. Businesses and companies are eager to dismiss any misinformation about them floating across cyberspace, so may have already debunked the rumour themselves.
So it may be worth checking out their website, or better yet, their social media pages, to look for any statement dismissing (or confirming) the rumour. Facebook pages are a great place for this, because other Internet users may have gone to their page and asked the same question you have, and the company or person may have already answered.
Jeff Goldblum and Morgan Freeman have, in the past, dismissed rumours they have allegedly died via their Twitter feeds. Coffee chain Starbucks publicly debunked a claim that they didn’t support US troops in Iraq via their website. Both the UK and Australian parliaments themselves exposed a viral warning that pensioners were afforded less benefits than illegal immigrants. The Royal British Legion have tweeted that the annual rumours that they cannot distribute poppies because of other religions is false. Tesco claimed on their Facebook page that they’ve not banned Easter. Oh, and McDonalds have debunked, well, many, many different rumours about them through their Twitter and Facebook pages.
So, for many types of rumours out there, it’s often better to hear from the horse’s mouth, instead of relying on anonymous claims shared by others on the Internet.
4. Google is your friend
If you’ve encountered a claim on the Internet and you’re not sure if it’s true, the go-to response for many is to simply use Google. You can even Bing it if you want to. This is an especially great way of debunking those “copy & paste to your status” type rumours we all often encounter on Facebook.
In many cases, it’s as simple as copying the first line of a rumour or just a few keywords into Google and clicking Search. You’ll be surprised just how many hoax-debunking websites may come up, including us!
Can copying and pasting legal jargon to your Facebook timeline protect the information you upload to Facebook? Copy the first line of that rumour into Google and tell us what you find out!
3. Look for red flags
Many rumours and hoaxes that spread prolifically across the Internet may each harbour a number of red flags that should be ringing alarm bells.
One red flag that can be applied to nearly all rumours is a lack of a reputable source.
For example, is Facebook charging you for not passing on a message? Where is the link to Facebook’s statement saying as much?
Missing child post? Where is the link to a local police appeal?
Will CNN or Bill Gates donate money for social media shares? Where is the story from either of them describing the initiative?
With fake news specifically, a lack of a reputable source is often combined with the presence of a dubious source. Have you read a suspicious story on a website and don’t know whether to trust it? Check what other stories that website is publishing, or Google the web address. There is a good chance that website is in the business of printing or aggregating fake news articles.
Another red flag that is common with hoaxes is the instruction to “Copy and Paste” something to your status. Internet pranksters love their “work” to go viral, and urging social media users to share it on by copying and pasting it (as opposed to sharing it) is a big red flag. (Sharing content doesn’t create another ‘instance’ of the post, so if the original gets deleted, so do all the shares.)
2. Ask a friend first
They say it is always important to have at least one friend who is smarter than you are. (Ed: that’s your Chief of Staff)
Everyone has that one skeptical friend who is the go-to person to ask when you’re not sure if something is accurate, so use them! Even if they don’t know the answer, they may possess the Internet know-how to look something up. Not everything is really easy to debunk or verify, and if something isn’t as easy as a Google search, then your friend may just be able to provide those important answers.
1. Ask us (or others.)
Finally, if none of the above steps work out for you, you can always ask us or any of the other hoax debunking websites out there for answers. After all, that’s what we’re here for.
There are tons of other sites out there, including Facecrooks, Hoax-Slayer, Snopes, Mimikama (for German speakers) and FactCheck.org, so even if you don’t like one, there are plenty of others out there to choose from. And the more sites that can debunk a rumour, the better!
As we’ve said before, it is very important for every Facebook user to be responsible for the information they choose to share. Sharing information is the social media equivalent of endorsing it, and no one wants to put their name next to utter nonsense.
The less MISinformation that is circulated through the Internet each day naturally leads to sites like Facebook being able to act as a more efficient and positive way of communicating effectively with each other.
Are there any more ways of verifying a rumour you’ve think we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.