CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC UPDATE: BE SMART, SOCIAL MEDIA IS A CESSPOOL OF LIES

By Kristen Hare, Poynter

You know the stories you see on Facebook that look outrageous and super clickable and are from outlets you’ve never heard of before? You can still read them, but you can also be skeptical of what you see with a few questions from IFCN’s Tardáguila.

o   Does the headline match the article itself?

“When the headline doesn’t match, it means it’s just catching you,” she said. “There’s no content there. It wants your click but there’s no reliable information.”

Yep, that’s clickbait. We all fall for it.

o   What date was the article published? People share quickly and don’t always see if the story they’re sharing is old and still holds up. Look at that timestamp.

o   Who wrote it? If you’re not familiar with the author’s work, Google them, Tardáguila said. Do they usually write about this topic? In the case of the coronavirus, is this person a health reporter? What else have they written about the subject?

o   Look for signs of sensationalism. Journalists who write hard news don’t deal much with exclamation points.

“We try hard to narrate, we try to go to facts. We don’t put qualities on it,” Tardáguila said. “Exclamation marks are people screaming. So if you find those, be aware.”

o   Are they quoting reliable sources? Just like you’d check the author’s byline, look up their sources. Do they hold up?

o   Follow the hyperlinks. Assuming the piece links out, where does it take you? If it leads to the information mentioned in the link, and if that source is solid, that’s a good indicator. It should not lead to an ad or something unrelated.

o   Do the numbers hold up? Tardáguila wants to see numbers and percentages together. Why? You need context. If something is 100% bigger, you need to know if that means it just went from one to two.

o   Consider historical data. With coronavirus, knowing how many cases there are this month compared with last is useful information. Look for data that adds context and helps you understand something.

“If you can find that information in an article, you’re probably looking at a good piece,” Tardáguila said.

Apply that to social media.

“The amount of misinformation surrounding coronavirus is unsettling,” said MediaWise’s Byron, “and I feel for everyone who is freaking out a little based on what they’re seeing on their social media timelines.”

And that means MediaWise’s foundational tips, which were created by Stanford History Education Group, apply.

o   Before you share something, ask these three questions: Who is behind the information? What is the evidence? What do other sources say?
o   To help figure that out, practice lateral reading.

That means opening a few other tabs and reading laterally to see who is behind the info you’re reading, who posted it, and what else has been reported about it.

Check multiple sources.

Don’t just get your news from one place, Byron said. “You should be reading three, four news sources on any given story, and that includes the coronavirus.”

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