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Managing personal fake news

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I’m an old newspaper guy. I never made it to a large newspaper — whoever I was married to at the time always pushed me toward something more secure, like corporate advertising, and I always gave into the pressure. But I worked in it “back in the day” when most small cities had at least two newspaper and large cities had five or six. That sort of competition kept reporters and editors sharp, because of they ever got lazy and published something that wasn’t true, the competition would gleefully eat them alive.

At the risk of sounding like an old fart (which I am), hardly any towns have more than one newspaper, and many of the surviving papers are mere shadows of their former selves, recycling news from a parent company that covers a whole state with scant local news. The lack of competition fuels the spread of fake news, since the pool of skilled skeptics with the ability to effectively fact-check has shrunk to a puddle.

You won’t be surprised to know that social media contributes to this. Here’s what I want to ask you today: how much do you contribute to it?

I have been guilty of occasionally passing on something via Facebook without checking its accuracy. On those occasions friends have generally posted a comment debunking it, something that makes me feel stupid but for which I am, nevertheless, grateful. My next step is to delete the inaccurate post and then notify my source if I can find it. At least anyone following a link to my post will only find a standard Facebook notice that the post is no longer available. I can’t stop the spread, but I can stop it spreading through me.

Unfortunately, according to my observations, hardly anyone else does this.

You’re not gonna believe this (except you will)

I don’t want to give a specific example because a) I don’t want to embarrass any friends, and b) I might inadvertently start a spread if someone doesn’t read this article closely. But I have in mind a situation in which a friend posted a politically-related “fact” that was easily disproved. I commented on it, including a link to the evidence, and the friend responded with, “I thought it didn’t sound true. But since I wouldn’t put it past him, I thought it was worth sharing. Oh, well. I guess this one has been debunked.”

But the post remained up. I saw many comments following mine, none of which showed a hint of having seen the debunking. They included things like, “I knew he was a scum!” and “Can’t wait to share this!”

As I said, I don’t want to embarrass my friend. So let’s talk about you and me. Do you know how to delete a post you longer support? If so, then please help cut down on the spread of Facebook junk by deleting anything that gets debunked. If not, here’s how.

Get rid of that junk!

  1. Find the post on Facebook. The easiest way to do this is to go to it immediately by following a friend’s comment debunking it.
  2. Look for the … in the upper right-hand corner of the post.
  3. Click on it. Choose the “Delete post” option. When Facebook asks if you’re sure, comfort it by telling it that, yes, you really do know what you’re doing. Or if you just need to tweak the post a bit to make it accurate, choose “Edit Post,” another much-neglected ability.
  4. Congratulate yourself. You just reduced ignorance on the Internet a little, tiny bit.

That will get rid of an inaccurate Facebook post. Other social media have similar methods (you can delete a tweet from Twitter, for instance, as most people know because of news stories about deleted tweets), but Facebook seems to be the biggest offender.

It takes very little effort to cut down on this sort of thing. It’s best to check things out yourself before posting. Here are some resources to help with that:

  • Snopes. They used to include a list of the sources on which they based their assessments, but I’ve noticed that is not necessarily standard practice anymore. Still, despite claims of bias, they generally do a good job of laying out their reasons for labeling something true or false so you can judge how solid their assessment might be. The grandaddy of such sites, they are a particularly good source for debunking non-political claims since so many other site focus on the political. For instance, no, Coca-Cola has never been green.
  • Media Bias/Fact Check. They specialize in documenting how reliable a web source might be. Not sure about AbcNews.com.co? Look up their entry here. (Although if you think that a place named “Age of Shitlords” might possibly be a credible source, you are probably beyond the help of fact-checking sites.)
  • Fact Check focuses on checking political claims, of which there are many.
  • Politifact seeks to check out specifically claims made by politicians. Old joke: how can you tell when a politician is lying? His/her lips are moving. Politifact thus has a lot of work.

If you neglect that, though, and a friend points out that something you have passed on is false, do us all a favor: take the time to delete that puppy!


About the writer

Donn King helps you communicate confidently. He writes a lot, too, a habit he hasn’t been able to break for nearly 50 years. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.