There’s a whole ton of news on news right now—how to stem the torrent of fake news sweeping Facebook, for instance, which is more complicated than one might expect. Or the secret meetings at Facebook to combat said fake news. Or the Macedonian millennials who, to make a quick buck, influenced Voldemort’s rise to power. That kind of thing. News about fake news, and how technology gives rise to it, is everywhere.
While I do agree that our social media platforms and our technology sector need to combat the problem with every algorithm it can muster, I also believe that we as individuals can work faster (and more morally) than companies. We are responsible for what we share on social media.
The thing is, we all fuck it up sometimes. I’m guilty of posting the occasional meme with a misattributed quote. Like the one of Donald Trump calling Republicans the stupidest block of voters, that never happened and I totally shared it. I never thought I’d find myself advocating critical reading (and thus, critical sharing) to a group of adults simply because I eff it up too. But from now on, here are the guidelines I’m holding myself to. Every blog post, article, meme, and infographic that I share will pass through the following criteria to determine if (and how) I share it.
Where does this come from?
If it’s a well-known and respected news source you trust, pass it on.
If it’s from an individual or a news source you don’t know, STOP. You may still want to share this because individuals and small publications move faster than large publications sometimes, but do your research. Can you find corroborating evidence? Are two different eyewitnesses saying the same thing, or is a publication local to the event covering it? If you can, great! If you can’t, say so in your post if you choose to post anyway.
If it’s from a known source of fake news*, STOP. Don’t post it, even if this fact, meme or article happens to be real. Find a more respectable source to direct your valuable clicks to; remember, in this world we’ve built for ourselves, clicks are money and links are endorsements.
* It’s worth noting that conservative blog RedState believes this list unfairly targets conservative opinion because they and two other sources of conservative aggregate news and opinion are on the list. So I clicked through to their homepage to do my research and their first headline at the time of my writing this is calling someone at The Southern Poverty Law Center an idiot. I decided to stand by linking to this list after that.
If it’s from Andy Borowitz, STOP! If you post this, please indicate humor in your post, or don’t post at all. The Borowitz Report is a satirical column in The New Yorker, and I watch a lot of people mistake it for real news.
If it’s from Breitbart, STOP! This is a Nazi publication that believes women naturally suck at STEM and the answer to online harassment is for women to log off. Look at your life, look at your choices.
When was this published?
If it’s recent, post on.
If it’s more than a few days old, STOP! The information might not be relevant anymore. If the information remains relevant and you wish to post anyway, please indicate the publication date in your post.
Have I read all the way to the end?
If yes, post on!
If no, STOP! It is never, ever a good idea to post something you haven’t read. If you mean to save it to read for later, please use a service like Pocket, book mark it or email it to yourself.
Does the headline match the content?
If yes, post on friend!
If no, STOP! Rewarding clickbait headlines teaches press and bloggers that their content doesn’t have to be well-researched and thoughtfully written as long as the headline is catchy. Try to find another piece with an ethical headline that says the same thing, and share that instead.
What two lines do a good job at summarizing the piece?
How do you feel about those lines? Do you agree with the thesis of the piece or disagree? Do you have anything to add to those two lines, such as additional information that can be cited elsewhere? Or do you have a reaction to those two lines that might contextualize why you are sharing the piece? While it might be tempting to simply share with no commentary, it’s not always an effective thing to do. Try to demonstrate critically engaging with the piece in your accompanying comment—it’ll help you clarify why you think this piece of news important in your own head as well!
Bonus: Is this content sponsored?
If so, you may want to share it anyway. But please indicate that someone paid for this content to show up on your feed. Where do their interests lie?
Want a quick way to decide if you should share this news? Anna Bongiovanni has summed up this entire process in a handy, shareable guide!
Author’s note: we originally shared an infographic with a typo in it! It’s been fixed now.
Ali, I love this piece! Thank you so much for sharing! I read the entire thing and shared on Tumblr, because ethical news-sharing is important!
Thank you so much for reading!
There’s a typo in the info graphic…the top left purple bubble (the best color, incidentally) has a what I believe should be know spelled “Kntow. Or I’m not getting a joke in which case please explain!
Ack! Thank you! Gosh, I edit Saturday Morning Cartoons and I still totally didn’t catch it. I’m so grateful that Anna took time out of their weekend to fix it.
Thanks for this Ali.
When I teach students about critical thinking / reading, I teach them a few questions to ask yourself. This was taught to penny a wonderful teacher who asked us to read the news and relate it to the lectures on moodle. The questions are :
1) what does it say?
2)is it true ?
3) what does it mean?
4) what does it mean TO ME?
I find that these questions are highly relevant in filtering out fake news. Just getting past the first two (making sure you’ve read the piece and questioned it’s authenticity) is something that is rarely done on facebook, and I won’t even talk about the last two.
This is making me want to read a piece on whether facebook killed critical thinking …
I LOVE these questions.
I think I’m going to incorporate a variation of this into my discussion board prompts for my students next semester, with some adaptation to get them thinking about /how/ the “true” part is being demonstrated. While we’re not reading fake news in class, they still struggle with understanding how to evaluate academic articles that disagree with each other. Thanks!
Thank you for writing this!
I would like to add another rule that if it’s an Autostraddle post you should share it on social media no matter what. It’s okay if you didn’t read the whole thing I forgive you, just share it
As kind of a tangent to the “What two lines do a good job at summarizing the piece?” I’ve found that it’s effective to include a “pull quote” from a piece when sharing it on social media – especially if the headline and meta description actually do their damn job and already provide a decent idea of what the piece is about.
Sometimes pieces feature their own pull quotes, so you can pick one of those or choose a sentence/paragraph that spoke to you or that you think is a good summary of or entry into the piece, or that you think will catch people’s attention (kind of like clickbait but not slimy). I put together a preparing-for-Thanksgiving Twitter thread of articles last week and these were some of the pull quotes I chose to accompany the links:
“Use your voice. Use the advantage of your personal relationship. Use empathy.”
“Don’t argue to win.”
“This is the hardest part of talking across difference: achieving empathy.”
“We cannot value the comfort of others any longer if the price is inequality.”
Also, Ali, thank you for this piece :)
This is an awesome sharing strategy! I especially love to employ it when they say it way better than I could’ve. Every time I read something and I’m like, yup, this, this right here, I share a quote instead of trying to do it justice myself.
Exactly. If the quote has already had a powerful effect on at least one reader (namely you!) then I feel like it’s much more powerful to share it rather than just linking to the article and saying “READ THIS IT’S SO GOOD SERIOUSLY EVERYONE NOT A DRILL.” Although that can be effective too!
I’m gonna keep sharing Onion articles no matter what ;)
Gosh, doesn’t it make you want to rip your skin off, though, when the inevitable friend or family member mistakes it for real? I get that that’s its own commentary, though. When it sounds like it could actually be happening.
What’s the problem with Andy Borowitz? He’s a humorist and his stories aren’t intended to be taken as anything other than satire.
Even though I don’t use social media, this is still a really useful way to evaluate information and of course I’m not totally understand a rock so I share articles via word of mouth. I haven’t thought about the 2 line summary since college and it’s so important. Thanks!
Thank you!!! I was just thinking about this
AS is the closest thing in my life to social media. I’ll stick to this. ;)
F*cking brilliant article and flow chart!!
I don’t trust this list either. Sorry
I’d only quibble with the dead end for Andy Borowitz. ^_^ Especially in these times, humor’s all but essential in maintaining spirits.
I might also excuse older articles, as whilst there is the potential for pertinent facts to have become outdated, there’s often a good case for offering up “historical” facts, or background to a more current story. I suppose the caveat there is it may be worth adding a note pointing out that this is indeed an old story, if the article doesn’t make it clear from context. (Helpfully, I see the Guardian now puts a little warning in bold type against stories that are more than a month old – FSM knows, it’s surprisingly easy to share a story that comes from exactly a year ago..)
But as a quick guide, I like this a lot – easy to follow, and attractively designed.
In the post itself, I excuse older articles as long as you say when it’s from and why it’s still relevant. I also excuse the Borowitz Report as long as you make it clear it’s fake. While almost everyone knows what the Onion is, I find that people see The New Yorker and assume it’s not a humor piece. The flow chart is a distillation of the article, so it doesn’t have those caveats. It’d be too unwieldy if we included them all!
This was a very informative and useful piece. However, I think you should also be careful to not relay misinformation by referring to Breitbart as a Nazi news source. I’m in no way defending Breitbart or their horrible racism/sexism/etc. They’re every bit as deplorable as we think they are. But to label them, and the alt-right movement, as Nazis is overly simplistic and actually may drive more moderate white people to sympathize with them. It’s not semantically correct.
That’s the LAST thing we want. Check out this interview with an actual ex-Breitbart employee – he offers important information straight from the horse’s mouth.
You may not like Fox news but the big five news channels are the place to go for real news. They have to be that way. If you don’t get the actual article from Fox News or ABC news, nbc news, cbs news, cnn.com then don’t bother reading it. Autostraddle being the exception but like the author says check when it was written. The big five take pride in giving the right news. With the advent of fake news it is more important to get it right.
The funniest thing is a guy at work who faithfully reads his facebook was always quoting these fake news sites. Weird. But one thing another magazine pointed out is the reason both sides were so far apart is that due to our click habits on facebook only articles that appease our click habits were presented to us. That way if we liked Trump, pro trump articles appeared only. Same with Hillary. We are looking at a world where we are all choosing to be alone because of an algorhythm.
I disagree. There are a lot of serious independent online journals out there who do a much better job at critically analysing the news than the mainstream big media does, they’re our only chance of getting truth when the big ones get complacent.
Excellent and very useful. Thanks
A useful thing is if news sounds fishy but is time-sensitive and important, check Snopes.com, as they are on top of debunking viral stories and seem p reliable in that regard.