This article is not about TV (or radio) political news, where real or fake is defined by the reporting organization.
Instead, this article is about the reposted and retweeted “news” (political or otherwise) feeds on social media, including email, and questions to ask yourself before further reposting or retweeting. These often show up on Facebook but can be on any social media platform. If it’s an email, they often ask you to send it to everyone in your address book and “reply to all” on your answer, thereby perpetuating more junk mail in everyone’s inbox.
You’ve seen them. They ask you to copy and paste the post into your own timeline and post it from there. It may be political but more often is a news story, maybe about a sick child or someone else in trouble. Often these posts tug at your heartstrings, so the inclination is to believe them. But how do you know if they are valid? Or still valid today? Or were never valid?
A valid story will contain a date (on which it occurred) and a source (real news outlet and or reporter’s name). And a valid story will not ask you to copy, paste and repost. If you want to repost it, you can just “share” it. But it’s the lack of a date that is the first cause for concern. When did this happen? Is little Timmy still dying and desperately needs to see his long-lost father before he passes? Or, if this were ever true, did it happen 4 years ago and poor little Timmy died 3 years ago? Without a date and a source you will never know.
I have challenged people who repost these stories and the answer I get most often is, “It looked like it could be true so I copied, pasted and posted it as instructed. Maybe someone who knows Timmy’s father will get in touch with him.”
One good reference site for fake stories is Snopes, https://www.snopes.com/.
Bottom line: If you can’t verify the story, do not repost it (or forward it if it’s an email).
Oftentimes, disinformation comes to us in links to websites. Anybody can write anything on the Internet and present it as fact. Here are some things to look for.
- Look at the URL (the website address). Is it only similar to what you expect and not the actual address? E.g. does it read bankofamerica.com (the real website) or bank.of.america.com, bank-of-america.com, bankofamerica.com.ru, any other variation? If so, beware!
- Many, but not all, hackers are from Russia, Bulgaria or China. If a website address ends in .ru, .bu, or .cn, beware! In fact, beware of foreign websites in general. These websites lists the non-US country codes, https://theodora.com/country_digraphs.html and http://www.web-l.com/country-codes/.
- All websites today should be https (the “s” tells you it’s secure) websites, not just financial websites. If the site just starts with http (no “s”), beware!
- Hackers are good at duplicating websites so it may look to be legitimate. The hackers are often foreign with limited English skills, so look for misspellings and grammar errors. If you see them, beware!
More information about spotting fake news or disinformation can be found at https://connections.oasisnet.org/blog/2020/02/25/recognizing-disinformation
The Internet contains a vast array of useful and valid information, along with some disinformation. Being skeptical and verifying stories may take a few extra minutes, but is well worth the time in the long run.
On behalf of Oasis Connections