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How to Fact-Check the Internet
Secretly biased sites, viral hoaxes on Instagram, fake photos that look 100% real—no matter how digitally savvy you are, the web is full of false info. This guide will help you separate fact from fiction.
This photo of a dolphin soaring in Hurricane Dorian’s winds was popular on social media back in September. It looks crazy, but is it real? Nope! According to Snopes.com (which fact-checks tons of viral content), it’s actually a photo from Hurricane Frances in 2004, with a dolphin inserted into the image.
Tip 1: Understand the Shock-and-Share Cycle
1. You see something that’s OMG, like a headline claiming that climate activist Greta Thunberg is an actress. (ICYMI, she’s not.)
2. This triggers an immediate emotional response, instead of one that makes you go, “Wait, is this true?” So you quickly share it with your followers.
3. When your followers see the post, they’re surprised as well, and they share it too. (It goes on and on and on.)
Stop the insanity! Experts say the key is to exercise what’s called click restraint: Before you repost, retweet, or re-whatever, wait 30 seconds and ask yourself, “Do I know this is real?” If the answer is no, don’t hit “share” until you’ve done some research (more on that in a bit!).
Tip 2: Become a Decoding Master
This tweet was supposedly sent from Snapchat. Here’s how to find out if it’s real:
Tip 3: Ask Yourself: Am I Making These Common Mistakes?
82% of middle schoolers didn’t know the difference between a real news story and sponsored content.
courtesy of family
“Once, I impulsively reposted what I thought was a Khalid quote I saw on VSCO. Instantly, my DMs were flooded with friends telling me it was actually from a fan page. I felt so embarrassed! Social media is such a big part of my life, and I want people to take what I post seriously. Now I always make sure to double-check that the source is legit.”
Tip 4: Influencer < Expert
@kyliejenner/Instagram (green smoothie); Jackson Lee/GC Images/Getty Images (Kylie Jenner)
Dr. Kylie?! Nope!
Remember when Kylie Jenner claimed that drinking celery juice could cure literally everything? Even if you don’t, it’s the perfect example of what we’ll call celebrity nonexpert syndrome—when stars spew advice they’re not qualified to give (and we believe them!). So before you consider any information as fact, ask yourself, “What makes this person an expert in ________?” If the answer is “I don’t know” or “Nothing,” then don’t let them be your only source.
Professional fact-checkers use a technique called “lateral reading,” which involves opening up several tabs at a time and searching for more details about a topic and evaluating the sources providing the information. The goal is to find out . . .
Want to learn more? John Green (the famous author!) hosts videos on navigating digital info. Find them at the CrashCourse YouTube channel.
Tip 5: Learn These Two Words: Confirmation Bias.
Sometimes the real reason you fall for certain types of stories is . . . YOU! Confirmation bias leads people to accept views that match their own. So if you’re passionate about the environment, you may believe and/or share anything you see about the effects of global warming because you assume it’s true. (Beware: There’s misleading info out there on all sides.) On the other hand, if you see a story that isn’t in line with your thinking, you may just assume it’s not true.
Additional vocabulary word: