Fact Checking Facebook: How to Do it and Why You Should

This is a guest post by Jennifer Dunn.

It’s back. Last week grandma posted the old, “With this status I hereby declare that all my Facebook content belongs to me and only me…” and all of a sudden the mythical Berner convention is gunking up your Facebook feed again.

First off, this is a hoax. All major media outlets have now reported it as a hoax. You can’t copyright your Facebook content with a status, but luckily you don’t have to – you already own it. Don’t worry.

Lately I’ve taken it upon myself to, politely, call out people who have posted bad information on a public forum like Facebook. Yes, I’m that person. But being argumentative isn’t in my nature.

Wouldn’t it be better if everybody was armed with the tools to fact check Facebook themselves? Couldn’t they save themselves from posting a picture of a baby with a horrible tumor and promising us all that Bill Gates has offered a dollar for every “like”?

Here are some of the erroneous posts I’ve recently ran across and how I fact checked them. I hope you’ll share your favorite fact checking methods in the comments.

(Because politics and general worldview are two of the more frequent hobgoblins of misinformation on Facebook, this post will deal with both, but I promise to pick on reds and blues equally.)

Example #1: The Inflammatory Picture

The other day a friend posted this picture of dark-skinned youth in camouflage holding guns with the caption, “Obama just graduated a class of 40 ‘Department of Homeland Security Youth.’” The post went on to compare this alleged fighting force to Hitler’s Brownshirts and warned us all to be very afraid for our guns and women.

Immediate clues that something was amiss:

a.)   The “youth” looked very, very young.

b.)  “Department of Homeland Security Youth” doesn’t sound like any U.S. government department I’ve ever heard of

c.)   Hitler made an appearance. Any mention of that guy should raise a red flag when it comes to the veracity of a Facebook post.

How to fact check? I downloaded the photo and submitted it to trusty TinEye.com. It turned out the “youth” are Explorers, a group affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. The picture was taken after a training exercise simulating a Border Patrol exercise. In 2009.

Example #2: The Inflammatory Video

Back around the time of the U.S. political conventions, I very nearly shared a video on my Facebook page showing a group of delegates at the Republican National Convention shouting “USA! USA!” over the Puerto Rican delegate as she tried to speak.

We all have our own areas of sensitivity, and racism is one of mine. “Wow, look at these racists!” I almost posted. Except I mentioned it to a colleague who quickly told me there was more to the story.

How to fact check? Look at the context. Get the whole story. If I had bothered to check before marveling to my colleague, I would have seen that the chanting had to do with seating arrangements.

While this one has been in hot dispute, an article in the well-respected Harper’s magazine sets the record straight that the delegates were not trying to shout the Latina delegate down.

The Sniff Test

The moral of this story? Before you go sharing something on Facebook, ask yourself a few questions to make sure you’re not just perpetuating another rumor or hoax.

1.)  Is the source trustworthy? Does it say, come from a Facebook group called “Kill all the Pandas”? This is an easy way to find clues about the veracity of a source.

2.)  Does this jibe way too firmly with my worldview? You might hate Paris Hilton but chances are she wasn’t caught on camera actually consuming an adorable puppy. You might want to check the provenance of that doctored image before you share it.

3.)  Is it on Snopes? Or can you Google it and quickly see that it’s been debunked by reputable sources? (I.e. the Facebook copyright notice.)

4.)  Is it accredited to a famous person? Abraham Lincoln was a quotable guy, sure, but the 16th president didn’t say this. Or lots of other things you’ve probably seen attributed to him on Facebook.

5.)  Was Hitler mentioned? Seriously, Godwin’s Law should always end the discussion. Think before you hit “share.”

If it passes all these tests, it just might be real and ready to share.  Remember:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. – Mark Twain.

Or did he?

The next time you see someone post something about copyrighting their Facebook statuses or terrorizing your feed with images of Boy Scouts, maybe instead of being “that person” you can just link them to this post.

Or just make like this guy and give up.

Jennifer DunnAbout the author: Jennifer Dunn is owner of Social Street Media, helping businesses connect with their customers through social media strategies and education. You can find her small business writing at Outright and WePay. Follow her on Twitter at @JennEscalona.

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