One of the greatest things about social media, is that we can learn about things happening in the world as they happen, with potentially a great purity of message. News no longer has to be filtered through a corporate lens or distilled into sound bites. Twitter, facebook, and the like have in some ways made news faster, further reaching, and more honest. The issue here is that human beings are still friggen twits!
“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” is a quote so ubiquitous in American society, that it was actually said by two famous people; Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allen Poe (though they said it slightly different.) But in today’s instant access world, it seems to fall on deaf ears. Far too often the assumption is: if it is on the internet, then it must be true!
Seriously? I am on the internet for crying out loud! I am a sack of angst and a foot long nose! I am a professional LIAR, and still I can spout whatever I like on this forum.
A second related fallacy is thus: If my friend shared it, and I like my friend, and I agree with the headline, then of course I fully endorse this article and deem it worthy of sharing too! Don’t share it right away, take a moment, breath, and think! (Unless I wrote it. Then you share it. Heck, share it twice.)
In the past 48 hours I have seen no less than a dozen internet acquaintances post crap news, make ill informed statements with “news” sites to back them up, post articles so far out of date that are no longer valid, beg for help finding a missing child that was safely home months ago, fall prey to fake news sites, and argue in a knee jerk fashion about an article based on the headline alone and zero understanding of the content.
You are all damn idiots! And I mean that with the most disgusted affection I can possibly muster, but complete understanding for your overly busy lives. So I am going to help everyone out here, with a few simple, easy to follow guidelines on how to navigate social media news without falling prey to ignorance, laziness, and logical fallacies. Lets start with a catchy phrase: “Use the tool, don’t be a tool!”
1) Be an active news consumer, not reactive.
This one is easy. If you are only getting your news from Social Media headlines—STOP! If you give a damn about the goings on of the world, then it is incumbent upon you actually make an effort to be informed. There are many news organizations out there that you can turn to for reliable news stories. Make it part of your daily routine to visit at least one of them, and preferably do so BEFORE signing in to facebook. Seek news sites out of your local area too, and if possible, out of your comfort zone. My favorite is actually the BBC world service, even though some of the accents are so thick that I can’t understand anything they say. It is entertaining as well, because those reporters can get downright pushy with their guests, but always manage to do it with posh British politeness. I also check out NPR, Huffington Post, CNN, NY Times, BBC, ABC News, and Yahoo. (Sorry folks, Fox News is a entertainment tabloid, it is not news…)
2) Read the article! Not just the headline.
Before you hit the like button, comment on a post, or heaven’s forbid, share the damn thing, READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE! I know, it is hard. Some of this stuff is sciency, or technical, and heck a lot of it paints the world in a way that you simply have trouble coping with. I get it! But if you are going to be complicit in the spread of information, then it is your duty to know what information you are spreading. Besides, you might just learn something. Or you may discover that the “mind blowing” news you are about to share, is in fact, outright lies posted on a site that finds humor in deceiving the gullible for a laugh. Please, don’t be the one they are laughing at. Be informed. Read before you post.
3) Check the date!
This is another no brainer. Why in the world would you want to spend even a single breath getting upset about something that is no longer relevant? Why deal with the vermin that are going to crawl out of the woodwork to debate you on a post, when the topic from the post is months (or even years) old and has already been resolved? Why get all emotional about a kid that went missing three weeks ago and was found the same night hiding out at a friends house?
You don’t have to do this to yourself! You can easily check the date. At the top of every legitimate news sourced article, there will be a by line noting the author and the time stamp, just like in a newspaper. (Some do put this at the bottom.) If it is months old, then don’t get upset about it. It is not news, news must be timely to be relevant. No point going on a rampage about a law two years after said law has passed. Follow up on the story by all means, see where it stands today, find out what (if anything) can be done today to help. And certainly remember it if you like, and do your rampage when it matters; at election time.
If there is no obvious date, check the actual link, often this will have the time stamp in it. Still nothing? Now is when warning bells should be going off! News sources date their news, so why is there no date on this one? If you reach this point, google is your friend. Do a search for the headline, see when it was posted. Still nothing? Then this is not news! Move on to step 4.
4) Check the Source!
Some of this is really easy. Is it on the Onion? Not news. Is it on a page with “natural” in the title? Not news. Is it on a page you have never heard of before? Probably not news.
Does it seem potentially legit, but there are warning signs:
- Shocking major news from a non-major news source.
- Sounds too horrible or too good to be true.
- No date or author on the article.
- Mentions a conspiracy or cover up.
- Rants and raves instead of giving concrete facts.
Then it is probably not news, but is most likely that sometimes horribly deceptive beast known as PROPOGANDA! How do you know for sure? Check google. You read the article already (if you didn’t, go back to step 2) so pick out the core gist of the article and google that. Ding! You got a hit! Yay! Is it the same article you just read? Oh… But hey! There are 12 billion more! Do they have the exact same headline, and thus are the same article you just read? Oh… But wait! Here is one that is not the same headline, not the same article, and comes from a reliable source! This is a small town newspaper in Nowheresville, Upper Dakota! Great – you found a second source. Read it! You already spent this much time to find it, you owe it to yourself to keep going and see what else you can learn.
5) Defend if Legit, Retract when Wrong!
You decide after consideration to post something newsworthy, legit, source-able, and recent! Thank you! You rock! You are enabling social media to work for the betterment of mankind and spread the word about legitimate and important news. Feel free to spread it like wild oats, and defend those oats if you must. (But also listen to the other side. News can develop, facts can become known, minds can change.)
But what if you post some quackery outrageous nonsense, get folks stirred up, and then discover that you in fact have fallen prey to spreading false or irrelevant news/propaganda? Well, you are the idiot that made the mistake, but at least you are not the idiot that latched on and joined the mob! Own up, apologize for your mistake, and TAKE THE POST DOWN!
It is hard to admit that you made a mistake, I know. I made one once too. But it is actually very easy to simply say, “I am sorry. I was wrong. I got tricked and did not do my part before spreading this crap on.” Heck, you can even cut and paste that line right there. The important part is to STOP being part of the chain for false news. If you shrug off your involvement, wave it away with a statement of “How was I supposed to know?” or “It is my opinion and I think this is right.” then you are a terminal moron. A continual numbnut, as it were, and in the end you are an irresponsible, propaganda spreading, riling folks up for no good reason, unmitigated liar. In short, you are a tool. Don’t be a tool. Cause for some reason, I actually like you.
If you think this article was about you—IT WAS! That said, it was not about any one person. It was about a disturbing trend towards knee jerk outrage and ignorance. We are all guilty. So fess up, take your time, and stop spreading crap! If any of the above applies to you, awesome! You are still a good person, it is just that people suck. Make an effort to suck less. Thank you!