By Rowena Diocton

Now that popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter are inundated by fake news articles, it’s easy for anyone to be swayed by Internet rumors and outright propaganda. For us women, it’s important to differentiate between genuine and manufactured news in social media, as this can affect decisions we make in our personal, business, and professional lives.

Living in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era

Editors and opinion leaders stress how we now live in the post-truth or post-fact era. Oxford Dictionaries even named “post-truth” word of the year in 2016.

And who could blame them when misinformation has been widely used for various intents during the past year? U.S. President Donald Trump has been accused of repeatedly misappropriating information and lying to push his agenda. Renowned Filipina journalist Maria Ressa called out President Rodrigo Duterte’s then-campaign spokesman Peter Tiu Lavina for sharing a photo of a rape-slay victim to justify the drug war in the Philippines, even as the photo was taken in Brazil. Misinformation has been so extensive that the largest technology names in society, Facebook and Google, are ramping up their efforts to combat fake news.

But is this really the first time we have seen fake articles like these? Are we really in the post-truth or post-fact era?

Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, does not think so. In the article “No, We’re not in a ‘Post-Fact’ Era,” Mantzarlis pointed out that the buzzwords above have been used in various campaigns years ago.

Nothing New

Fake news is nothing new. As early as 2009, Mashable has alerted us with a list of the various Internet hoaxes that people usually fall for, such as the Montauk monster, the kidney thieves of New Orleans, and the discovery of Bigfoot’s body. Fake news and articles have been consistently used online to spread political propaganda, misleading marketing, dangerous malware, information-stealing scams, and other nefarious schemes.

What’s new, however, is the use of technology and social media to disseminate fake news and influence a large group of people. Real and fake accounts (“sock puppets”) have been used to create false perceptions in social media, which in turn affected the recent Philippine elections. Trolls who hide under the guise of “social media marketing consultants” have been paid up to P2,000 to P3,000 a day to condition the minds of Filipinos to believe in their propaganda.

How to Stay Clear of the Abyss of Misinformation

Misinformation has always been a weapon of manipulation. Swaying public opinion is something that has been done even before the terms post-truth and post-fact were coined. Getting duped by wrong information can get you to back ideas against your values and the values your organization holds. Our professional and personal lives often intertwine in the online sphere, making the things we share open to public scrutiny. How can you make sure you’re not getting duped into believing a half-truth or an outright lie? Ask yourself these questions:

Does it come from a reputable source?

Exercise due diligence before sharing anything. Check first where your information is coming from. Is it from a news site and does it explicitly say so in its About Us section? If yes, is it a news site known for running balanced stories with more than one or two sources? If it’s not a news site, is it a blog? If yes, who is running the blog and what are the bloggers’ motivations? Are those behind the information linked to any political factions, commercial groups, or other organizations? Have they been criticized for their coverage? Are they objective and fact-based in their coverage? Have you gone to their website to check what other articles they share?

Have you checked the web address?

Remember to always check the web address or URL of the article you’re sharing as well. Fake-news sharers are often duped by what looks like legitimate URLs at first glance but are really misspellings of the real URL. For instance, fake articles are shared online by fake-news propagator theguard1an[dot]com, whose URL can deceive people into believing that they are reading news from legitimate news provider theguardian[dot]com. Note that legitimate news sources like The Guardian are now exercising caution in shared links and are adding their branding to the posts. This measure, however, may still be bypassed, and branding can be copied by others.

Have you read it completely?

One rule of thumb for every article you share on social media is this: read it first. Researchers from the Columbia University found that majority of links shared on Twitter were not clicked. People tend to share articles without reading them first, and this can be detrimental because headlines do not necessarily represent the article. For instance, you may remember the last time you clicked on something exciting, only to be taken to an article that not only has an entirely different title but has less exciting content than promised. These misleading articles often use the formulaic “Something happened to someone, you won’t believe what happened next!” in their headlines to attract clicks.

If you read an article through completely, you will know if it represents all sides fairly. You will be able to check if it is a work of fiction being misrepresented as news. You will also be able to gauge if it’s satire by reading between the lines. So make it a point to read something first before sharing it.

Can you verify the facts independently?

To be safe, you can also check if the sources cited in the article indeed said the things they said. Look for at least two or three other reputable sources that cite the information you’re going to share. If it’s breaking news and you’re sharing something based on just one source, be aware that you’re doing so, but also find time to double-check afterwards if the story is indeed true.

Even trained investigators in the country have been duped by fake news websites. The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency has been called to a hearing for citing a fake news article in an intelligence report.

Have you run news items by fact-checking and scam sites?

One great thing about the Internet is it being the information superhighway, information being the operative term here. If a certain source is a known fake news source, there is a chance that someone has called it out in a shared space online. Before sharing, take the time to run the website and title through fact-checking and scam sites such as PolitiFact, the soon-to-be-relaunched tool ABC Fact Check, or the Facebook fake-news detector plugin B.S. Detector.

Once in a while, buzzwords backed by half-truths and outright lies will pop up to influence our thinking, so it’s wise for us women to know how to separate truths from lies, especially in social media where all the mischief is now happening. Putting in that extra effort can save you not just embarrassment, but heartache as well. Swallowing wholeheartedly persuasive but likely dubious news and information can so easily lead us to make decisions in our personal life, at work, or in business that could have disastrous results.

Photo: Jason Howie

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