We live in an age of connectivity. Channels of communication reaching around the planet are at their fastest and most powerful in the entire history of humankind.Some use this power for good. Most use it to share cat memes.
But there is a third group, a destructive and unreliable kind of person known to almost all of us. They are the people who lack basic fact-checking skills. They are the people who read nothing more than headlines. They are the people who believe that The Onion is a serious news outlet.
They can be treated with only one medicine: shame.
This is the Gentleman’s Guide to shaming your friends for sharing fake news on social media. As a five-step program, it lays out a simple tried and true method for cutting off this embarrassing conduct at the source.
Often we see a headline that reads something like, “Water Linked to 10% times increase in Cancer Risk!” There are a lot of things wrong with this, but they can almost all be explained with a little bit of Sherlock Holmes-ian investigation.
What does 10% times mean? Nothing, that’s gibberish. Why is there an exclamation point in this headline? Because it is from a disreputable news source and it would cause any respectable journalist to gag. How did they test who drinks water? They didn’t. Why does this sound so fantastic and suspicious? Because this is fake news.
By simply breaking down the components of an article, it is possible to glean fiction from fact without any other legwork. Other times, you might need to do a little digging.
Eke Out the Truth
When you can’t prove an article’s wrongness through the source text alone, take to google. Try putting key–but suspect–phrases into Google to see what comes up. Search for reliable sources like academic papers or URLs that end in .gov, .edu, or snopes.com. All of these sites will be well worth your time.
In addition to just searching terms, it is useful to learn what kind of questions need to be asked. Was there a source mentioned in the article, like a doctor or public official? Google them and find out if they are real. Is the site full of weird articles? Read their About Page or their terms and conditions, both of which often make it very clear that they are satirical news sites.
Now this is the part most people don’t love. You need to call your friend out on their wrongness. While we usually argue that any confrontations should be handled with white gloves and flintlock pistols, or at the very least with calm and rational voices in a private setting, this is one exception. Take it public. Let the world know. The misinformation campaign must be stopped.
There will be flak. There will be resistance. Stay strong and don’t resort to insults. Just explain your points with valid, logical points (a rare but powerful force in social media) and link to sources! Oftentimes, Snopes has already done your work for you and you can merely post the link on their page. Your smart friends will thank you.
Remember the Sources
The publication The Weekly World News has been in print for decades. I remember reading it in grade school. And while the discovery of Bat-Boy is patently fake and obviously so, other articles are sometimes less overt. Just remember this:
If it came from WWN, it is not real.
There are numerous other sites like this on the web. Learn them. Learn to hate them. By recognizing their name and brand, you can often cut many of these lies short before they even get moving. Just a look at the URL tells you everything you need to know.
Don’t Back Down
Most of all, stick to your guns and be strong. You are on the side of truth and righteousness and this is the most noble fight of our age. Not all heroes wear capes, and the choice is yours to wear one or not. Just know that even if you look like a cape-wearing doofus at your home office… what you are doing is the right thing.
How do you know it’s the right thing? Because even if it all seems to fail. If your friend stubbornly refuses to believe that no, the Guatemalans did not build a wall to keep their Mexican neighbors out, there are other people reading his page. Only one person has to listen to you to be a success.
Now go get ‘em, tiger.