The surge of reports labeled as false in print, on television, radio and elsewhere have sent some of us seeking advice both on checking suspect news and “correcting” friends on social media.
Quite to my surprise, the highly respected Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school that operates PolitiFact, offers a self-guided course for us. Specifically it is promoted for people 50 and older who read news online, often via social platforms such as Facebook.
There is no charge and it is set up for participants to proceed at their own pace, checking in and out as desired.
It requires no special internet skill and focuses on identifying misinformation, tools and techniques of professional fact checkers, verifying images and videos and identifying and consuming online news responsibly.
Finally, it indicates that by the end participants should be able to explain to others the pitfalls of sharing misinformation and how to fact-check on their own.
Having discovered the course just late last week, I’ve not progressed far, but find it informative and, well, challenging. I immediately missed some clues on objectivity. It is also appealing, with talk show hosts Joan Lunden and Christiane Amanpour helping guide us through the material.
Search for www. poynter.org/courses/ mediawise-for-seniors.
As we are often reminded, social media, where much misinformation surfaces, increasingly is a major source of news for many.
The well-regarded nonprofit Pew Research in a 2018 survey found that 43% of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook, while 21 percent turn to YouTube and lesser percentages go to Twitter (12%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn (6%) and others.
What’s more, once posted on social media, news seems to take on a life of its own. As readers share the items with their networks of friends, a report on one social media, accurate or not, reaches exponentially growing number of people almost instantly.
As an example, earlier this year a family fleeing fires south of Portland, Oregon, heard that activists had started the fires, National Public Radio reported. While the information was false, it spread rapidly on social media, causing so much disruption that the police themselves turned to Facebook and Twitter begging people to stop spreading the rumors.
Part of the reason claims such as these spread so widely on Facebook, NPR reported, is that the world’s biggest social network rewards engagement. Posts that get lots of shares, comments and likes get shown to more people, quickly amplifying their reach.
As the fire rumors proliferated, Facebook did put warnings on some posts its fact-checkers found false and eventually, after the FBI debunked the rumor, Facebook began removing posts entirely. But by then it had spread widely.
More recently, the New York Times reported, an erroneous election report gained nearly 900,000 views in 12 hours, straining the fact-checkers to respond.
Certainly it is a difficult task to address verbally or electronically, misinformation advanced by friends and family.
It’s been several years since I first failed to respond to a blatantly inaccurate social media post. Not long after, a mutual friend graciously did post a response.
But it’s something of a mine field. PEN America, a 98-year-old nonprofit association for writers warns that the first step to responding to a post is to verify it is misleading or false. That’s where we turn to the fact-check sites Politifact, Snopes, Factcheck and others (also covered in the Poynter online course.)
Second, PEN America suggests after confirming the error we have to decide whether to respond privately or on the social media site, but certainly with a link to a credible site with accurate information. The person who posted the information might be more receptive if not called out “publicly” but a public correction may be appropriate if the post has a lot “likes” and comments.
But to avoid confrontation, consider the perspective of the other person, and provide resources on tools for checking, the association suggests.
For details search for Pen.org false information.