Fact-Checking on Social Media
Fact-Checking on Social Media
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If you want to be a changemaker, social media is your friend. Engaging with content on social media can be useful; however, it becomes more difficult when multiple views seem to disagree with each other.
Is the content on social media correct or influenced by misinformation? You should be thoughtful while reading content online. When users share information about topics that are important to them, false information may result—even by accident! Fact-checking will help you tell the difference between fact and opinion.
What Is Fact-Checking?
Fact-checking is a way to interact with sources of information and ensure that the information being discussed is correct. It can also help you better understand something you already know or something you want to learn more about.
When to Fact-Check
When using social media, it may not always be clear when to fact-check. Knowing when to fact-check is a helpful skill (Pew Research Center, 2021). You should engage with online content with an open mind. Yet trying to figure out what content to fact-check can be confusing.
So, what should you do? Ask yourself the following questions when trying to decide when to fact-check.
Does the person who posted have financial or other incentives?
An incentive could explain someone’s reason for posting information on social media. People who represent a company, product, or political view may receive an incentive for promoting something.
Musicians, artists, or other influencers may create posts that lead to more discussion about their content. Due to this, social media influencers may not always consider perspectives other than their own before posting something that many people will see online. Such posts could lead to financial gain and more followers.
If you think a content creator is being influenced by an incentive, you should keep this in mind when assessing whether their content is reliable and accurate.
Was the post meant to be a stand-alone statement or to spark an online debate?
Find the source of the information. For example, is the information from a government agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or an individual? It’s important to consider whether the original poster shared an opinion or wanted to start an online discussion. Government organizations often want the information to be re-shared by the public. When re-sharing information that includes personal opinions, the audience may not have the same understanding of the topic.
A possible negative outcome also can occur when people learn of something from secondary, rather than primary, sources. This is especially likely when someone shares content without fully understanding possible background information of the content they are interacting with.
Who’s the intended audience?
Understanding the intended audience will help you understand the motivation for an online post. This is an important aspect of telling the difference between fact and opinion. It also gives you an idea about whether the original poster wanted to gain attention with the post. An example is when public figures share controversial, or disputed, content online because they know it will bring extra attention.
Once you find the potential reasons for content, is the information something you want to understand more fully? Has the content gone “viral,” that is, content shared, copied, and spread across many social media platforms? If so, it is even more important to decide whether you should fact-check the information.
What’s your interest level in the content?
Your interest level, or how much you know about the content, may show the need for fact-checking. If the content doesn’t interest you, you likely won’t feel a need to fact-check. If you read something that goes against what you know or is completely new information, you should dive deeper to find out if the item is a fact or an opinion. As a changemaker, you’ll want to dive deeper into content that focuses on current events or causes you care about.
Does something seem “off” in the content?
You might decide to fact-check something simply because it doesn’t make sense or doesn’t align with something you know to be true. This aspect of deciding when to fact-check can be a strong reason behind when you choose to fact-check. In this way, fact-checking may connect to something you care deeply about and want to understand better.
How to Fact-Check
- Find the source of the original content.
- Visit the source’s personal page. Does their bio or profile share information about their background knowledge? Is the person believable?
- Is the source a real person?
- If not, the content is probably not reliable.
- If yes, is the content an opinion? If so, try to find more factual information.
- Consider searching for other posts about the same topic. Do other users or well-known groups say something similar? If the content comes from a respected organization or a government agency, the information is likely reliable.
Don’t be afraid to challenge your personal views. You may end up learning something you hadn’t thought of before!
Keep an open mind when reading online content and practice critical thinking skills—a valuable life skill.
You Can Stop the Spread of Misinformation
It’s disappointing to find misleading content. But you can take action! Make a habit of asking questions and practicing critical thinking and fact-checking when engaging with content. And when creating your own content, get into the habit of sharing sources for your posts. Sources are especially useful if the content is about a topic that’s hotly debated or a current event.
By learning how to spot misinformation, anyone can stop its spread! If fact-checking is something you find useful, but don’t always know where to start, there are youth changemakers just like you who fact-check online content (for example, The MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network) and explain the process as they go along!