Disinformation and misinformation can run rampant online but while debunking it seems the obvious thing to do, there are best practices for carrying out your noble intentions. Most importantly, it means not further amplifying false claims to people who might be susceptible to them.
If you’ve been on social media any time recently, you’ll know it’s even more of a cesspool than usual. Living in a pandemic, where staying at home is often mandated, means we’re tuning into the digital space more often and that can be a dark place to scroll or browse through.
False claims and unverified information regarding coronavirus and plenty of other topics have been flying around quicker than people can scrutinise.
Some of these posts have come from celebrities, including the likes of actor Woody Harrelson and tennis player, Novak Djokovic.
While the knee-jerk reaction is to simply quote-tweet them on Twitter or repost on Facebook with a reaction breaking down why it’s all wrong, there are a simple few steps you should take to avoid giving the dodgy claims more fuel.
Screenshot, don’t retweet
While this mostly relates to false information on Twitter, it’s important to remember not to amplify the claims more than required.
If it’s a random account with a handful of followers, it might be best to leave it altogether. When it comes to influencers and celebrities with thousands or millions of followers, that’s when it becomes worth it.
First up, instead of re-tweeting the claims, it’s best to screenshot and then share. That way anyone who sees it — and might be interested in learning more — will have to do a bit more work to find the disinformation source rather than a single click.
if you wanna dunk on a certain tennis player for his brain worms, here’s a tip: don’t retweet his actual tweet. You’re just amplifying the message. Take a screenshot.
— James Croft (@jamescroft) August 19, 2020
It’s in line with a 2018 study from MIT that showed fake news travelled faster and further than verified, reputable stories. Sharing those stories further to debunk them only adds to this concerning reality.
You can also reinforce that a post is false by stamping it with a watermark that reads ‘false’ or ‘misleading’. A big red cross will also do the job.
Simple tips to tell when something’s false
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner recognises the sharing of false information is a concern on the web and offers some handy tips to help you verify it yourself.
- Is the article based on fact or opinion?
- If it’s an ‘opinion piece’, does the writer include the point of view of anyone who disagrees with them?
- Does the headline match the content of the article?
- Do the quotes make sense and match the rest of the story, or do they seem to be missing the wider context of what was said and done, and why?
- Does the article match the news source it was based on? Some people rewrite stories or change the facts to fit their point of view.
- Does the story attack a broad group — such as ‘the media’, ‘the government’, ‘people on welfare’ or ‘refugees’? Lots of fake news is written to make you think certain groups are your enemy.
- Does the story make you so angry or surprised that you don’t want to believe it? Listen to your doubts and do more research.
While some pieces of misinformation might appear blatantly obvious, others cloak it far better. It also really depends on how familiar a person is with the internet. While younger people are used to seeing sites they deem dodgy, older adults less familiar with traversing the web might not know what the telltale signs look like.
“Just because a lot of people are sharing something doesn’t mean it should be believed. Carefully consider all sides to the story, often the answer is somewhere in the middle,” the eSafety Commissioner’s site reads.
“Try to read articles from a variety of news sources, so you can learn about different experiences and opinions. But use your critical thinking skills to make your own decisions about what to say or do.”
The key part is not the spread it further — even if your intentions are solid.