Article 1 of our 2-part blog.
False rumors are one of the most prolifically experienced phenomena that users of social networking sites like Facebook will see. Thousands of different rumors circulate virally across social networking sites every single day.
And despite many of these rumors being obviously false or merely rehashed hearsay circulating over a period of many years, it seems they are still able to fool plenty of users into believing that they are genuine. It appears that a substantial number of Internet surfers still don’t seem to realise you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the Internet.
In this two-part blog we discuss both how you can verify or dismiss a rumor and why you should never, ever circulate false rumors.
How to Verify/Dismiss an Internet Rumor
Knowing when something is merely a rumor and when something is legitimate is something that is worth knowing for anyone who uses social networking sites and email. Often there is no definite way of ascertaining whether something is genuine or not, but with this how-to post you should always know whether you should share something with your online contacts.
First off, we discuss sources. Alternatively you could call this evidence or proof. We talk about this first because it is one of the easiest ways of dismissing a great deal of hearsay on the Internet.
At school you’re always taught to back up claims made in your literary works by providing reliable sources. The same should really apply to rumors that circulate the Internet, because after all, why should you take a rumor at face value when the author cannot take the should-be simple step of backing up their claims? A simple link to a legitimate and reliable source is all that is needed in the case of Internet rumors.
Take for example the persistent “Facebook is charging” rumor that circulates every few months in various formats. If Facebook were to introduce an imminent charge to use their site, then of course they would say as much on their website. Also the mainstream media websites would also report the story. But of course every time the rumor circulates it fails to provide any sources backing up the claims made in the message.
Sources become even more important when rumors start accusing people or companies of wrong doings, because spreading unfounded rumors that target people without reliable sources or proof is incredibly irresponsible, regardless if you’re talking face-to-face or doing it from behind a keyboard.
A lack of any credible source is the biggest red flag when it comes to debunking online rumors. It is good practice to only spread information on the Internet that is accompanied with reliable sources to ensure that the information is correct and easily verifiable. Of course if you cannot find a reliable source (or you find information on sites like ours that debunk the rumor) then it should not be circulated.
A lack of any reliable source or proof is not the only sign that should send alarm bells ringing. Internet rumors often share many red flags that should help you determine them to be nothing more than nonsense.
False rumors often place a priority on getting as circulated as virally as possible, meaning they will often be written in an overly alarmist manner and will typically implore the reader to circulate the same rumor on to their friends as quickly as possible. Such rumors will usually have some type of “pass on to your friends”, “forward this” or “warn your friends” call-to-action sentiment appended to its text. To add to the alarmist nature of the rumor is may be written entirely in capital letters and contain such words such as “warning”, “attention” and “beware”.
Internet rumors, especially those that appear on sites like Facebook, typically focus on similar subjects, and a substantial number of rumors are merely repackaged rumors that have circulated for years, if not decades. Such subjects can include privacy “alerts”, hacker/predator warnings, donate per share hoaxes, Facebook is charging hoaxes and virus warnings.
But if you are still not sure about the legitimacy of a rumor then you can check out any number of sites – including our own that deal specifically with debunking online rumors.
Many of these sites, like ours, have Facebook pages where you can ask questions.
Even if you cannot determine if a rumor is false you should still avoid spreading it if you cannot verify it to be true. Think of it this way – in a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty. In the world of online hearsay, rumors should be treated as false until proven true and not the other way around. This ensures that all the information you pass to your friends is correct and falsities and untruths do not get passed around the Internet.
And if are always falling for false rumors or help circulate them “just in case” they might be true, or know somebody else that does, then read part two of this blog post which explains why you should never, ever circulate such rumors because of the not-so-obvious but ever-so-real ramifications they can have.