As a rule, the human race loves bad news. Yes, it’s really cute and lovely when a dog rescues a cat from drowning, but you will never see that lead the 5 p.m. news on CBS. Photos from the latest skirmish, details of the latest plane to crash or news of the latest corporate skulduggery are the news we really crave.
So, when some people see something in social media that is possibly dangerous to others, they go nuts and re-post it with “You have to see this! My word, this is so terrible!!!”
Somewhere in the past, I mentioned you can not believe everything you read on the Internet. Why? Because anyone can make a website. There are no restrictions, no regulations and no litmus test for truth.
I typed the following into my Google search engine: Does dihydrogen monoxide cause cancer? In seconds, I had more than 27,600 responses, most of which warning the substance has been linked to everyone who has ever died of cancer. It also was linked to everyone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, mental disorders and HIV/AIDS. With all of that evidence, dihydrogen oxide must be the most dangerous substance in the world.
It’s water, people. H2O.
If the Internet is full of misinformation, you should realize Facebook is crammed to the gills with it. I have a friend on the social media dynamo who believes every one of the posts she gets and instantly re-posts them. You name it, and she bought into. “There’s wax on Ramen noodles that can cause cancer.” “The glue on manila envelopes contains roach eggs.” “Plastic water bottles break down and cause cancer.” Sorry, those are all fake.
She’s the kind of person for whom the National Enquirer is the most trusted news source.
So how can you tell when something is fake? It’s very easy.
Does the story use last names? How about the actual city where it happens? Is a source identified? If the answer to all of those questions is “no,” then you’ve got a prank.
If the article does name a source, put the name into a search engine and make sure it exists. That’s not always an indication that it’s real, but it’s a step.
Dig a little. Check reputable sources like Newsweek, the Smithsonian or ABC News. Do NOT bother with Cracked or The Onion; those are both humor websites. Snopes is one of the best sites to check because they constantly research urban legends and Internet hoaxes.
Most of all, think. If it sounds far-fetched, it’s probably false. If it claims someone is a radical extremist who is trying to bring about the fall of civilization, it’s probably false. If the website you use to confirm the story is one that would have a definite stake in the story being true, it’s fake.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Nigerian princess with $8 Billion U.S. dollars and some pills to improve my performance that wants to marry me but needs $3,000 in plane fare to get to Chicago before I can collect anything.
Shaw Media Staff Writer Ken Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.