Social media has become a main source for stories. People get — and share — news on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But, far too often, people have no idea where those stories are sourced from and whether or not there’s much truth to them.
As an editor, my job doesn’t stop when things are grammatically correct. Part of my job involves fact-checking, which involves making sure that what we’re putting out there is fair and accurate. Want to make sure you’re not the idiot who treats an article from The Onion as the real deal or the one spreading an unfounded rumor on social media? Ask yourself these five questions first:
- Is the writing of good quality? If I read something that’s full of typos, I’m instantly cautious and skeptical. I’m not saying that anything with an error should be instantly discarded, because let’s face it, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. But if reading the content is like trying to decipher ancient hieroglyphs, you might want to find another source.
- Is this content recent and relevant? Before you share that tale, make sure it isn’t something that’s several years old. Also, make sure that what you’re posting is still relevant. Posting an old warning about something that a company did a long time ago won’t help anyone; it’ll just (potentially) stir up a lot of panic.
- Who is the author of the content? If he calls himself Gus the Gun Guy (or something similar), he’s probably not a professional. Or at least not in a way you’d trust. (Bill Nye the Science Guy is, of course, an exception. That guy is amazing.) I’m not saying you need a degree to be a writer, but I am saying that the author should at least have some sort of credible higher knowledge on the topic.
- What is the purpose of the page? (Is there any evidence of bias?) Look, some content providers (news outlets or otherwise) are owned by certain people or are catering to a specific audience. As a result, you’re probably only going to get one side of the story. And, as the saying goes, there are three sides to every story: the first person’s, the second person’s and the truth. In theory, news stories should present the facts. Blogs are mostly opinions. And The Onion? Well, that’s satire. (So, please, crazy aunt from Iowa, please stop being outraged by it. It’s not real.) But knowing the bias behind any content can help you determine how much weight to give it.
- Can I verify this information elsewhere? People share Facebook content all of the time, but so often, they do it without checking sites like Snopes.com to see if it’s real or not. Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s reality. Being able to verify content with a reliable source can help give a certain level of credibility.
It’s simple, really. A quick Google search or two can help make sure you’re not spreading lies. And that’s no bad thing.