In our technology-driven age, there’s very little we can’t learn through a few clicks on a computer or taps on a smartphone. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to access a wealth of information. And while this access can be a great tool in our daily lives, it can also be a huge liability. It can be difficult to sift through the amount of information we’re inundated with on a daily or even hourly basis. Discerning fact from fiction in what we see on the internet can be challenging, especially when that content comes from social media sites.
From Facebook to Twitter, what we view on social media needs to be taken with a grain of salt, especially in the case of viral posts. Oftentimes, the content of viral posts is blown of proportion, biased, or simply untrue. But there are few of us who haven’t been at least momentarily duped by one of these memes, articles, or videos, making it hard to distinguish the real from “fake news.” However, there are some simple steps to follow that will help you become internet smart, turning you into a savvy social media user:
- Check the source. This can usually be done without even clicking out of Facebook. In the case of news articles, etc., look at where it came from. Is it from a reputable newspaper/magazine/website? If it’s from something you’ve never heard of or appears to be from something less than trustworthy, chances are it’s not the best source on the topic and probably not the best authority on which to base your opinion.
- Check the date. Oftentimes, viral posts are shared regardless of their timeliness, leading to the spread of misinformation. Simply check the date on the viral photo, video, or article. It may be that the information you’re dying to share with your followers is in fact old news.
- Google it. Do a quick search on the Internet before you copy and paste that statement forbidding Facebook or Instagram from using your content and information without your permission. And this goes for anything that’s causing widespread panic or confusion on social media; simply go to the internet, find out if it’s true, and then react accordingly. Snopes.com is a great place to fact-check the validity of this kind of “the sky is falling” content.
- Be careful with your personal information. Social media sites employ user information in a variety of ways, not the least of which is sharing their users’ data with advertisers. This goes for popular apps as well. Sure, finding out what you could look like in 60 years seems fun and harmless. And while I’m not suggesting that Russian spies are using your photo for nefarious purposes, the fact of the matter is that the information you provide is being used somehow and the savvy social media user is always aware of this.
- Limit time spent on social media sites. While entertaining, some of the content found on sites like Facebook is not all that beneficial and could even be causing real harm. There are other, better sources of news and better ways to spend our time. Taking a break from social media can be a great thing for our brains, hearts, and peace of mind. And not making our screens the center of our worlds shows our kids there are better, more important things on which to focus our time and attention.
When you use these tactics, you’ll be able to identify fact from fiction online!