Think before you share

By Travis Hunter
On October 4, 2019

Travis Hunter, copy editor

Picture this.

You’re sitting at your computer, or holding your phone in your hand, browsing through one of various social media platforms. You scroll past all the viral videos, vacation photos and memes until, suddenly, you see it.

It’s the headline of an article about a celebrity or politician who has done or said something absolutely abhorrent to your sensibilities.

You’re incensed. Infuriated, even. You hit that share or retweet button faster than you’ve ever done anything in your life, adding your two cents of condemnation before dispersing it to everyone you know.

And just like that, you’re part of the problem.

This is an easy trap to fall into. Headlines are designed to catch your eye and pique your interest so you’ll click on them and share it with others. This desire for virality often leads to headlines that devolve into sensationalism and outright misinformation in order to drive traffic to a website. While this practice is unbecoming of any news organization, no outlet is immune, and the public isn’t helping.

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, 52% of American adults said they’ve shared false news stories via social media but didn’t know the stories were false when they shared them. All it takes is one person to absent-mindedly share a false story and it cascades, spreading like a virus until our discourse is muddled and ignorance thrives.

Thankfully, there are precautions we can take to ensure we’re not adding to the problem.

First, don’t stop reading at the headline. A headline isn’t always indicative of the story therein, so it’s wise to actually click on the story and read it fully. Only then can you assess if it is factual or not.

Secondly, don’t give in to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when you intentionally seek out information that validates your preconceived beliefs or ideas. When we give in to it, we don’t allow skepticism to seep in because we want to believe the worst about people we don’t like, whether it’s true or not. Be skeptical, even if you don’t want to be.

Next, consider the source. What would an outlet have to gain by forwarding such a narrative? Who owns the publication and what are their interests? It’s not conspiratorial to say money has power that could influence a publication to get behind an agenda, so it never hurts to see where the money is coming from. Try your best to only seek out the most reputable of sources. Also, investigate whoever wrote the story. Are they trustworthy or is their credibility a bit murky? Do your own research and don’t be swayed a certain way without the proper facts to back it up.

Lastly, friends don’t let friends misinform. If you see someone share something online that you know to be false, point them in the direction of the facts. You don’t have to be cruel about it, but a correction could go a long way. We all have the capacity to do better on this issue.

In the aforementioned study from the Pew Research Center, only 10% of respondents believe this problem will improve over time. While that statistic is depressing, we don’t have to accept the status quo as a foregone conclusion. If we can make an effort to consume media responsibly, see past the headlines, engage in regular fact-checking, be mindful of sources and keep each other honest, we can all be part of the solution.

Feel free to share.

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