Dr. Shannon Rauch, PH.D
Why do people believe questionable news sources?
So why are people so willing to believe Internet stories—and to incorporate the information into their worldview—without taking the minimal effort required to discover whether they’re true?
“People won’t take the time to question because there is so much noise on the Internet,” says Dr. Janet Johnson, Ph.D., a social media scholar and clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas-Dallas.
The real problem, she says, isn’t that people are gullible, but their lack of knowledge about fact checking.
“To create better digital citizens, we need to teach people how to evaluate a headline and a story,” Johnson says.
Other than checking Snopes—which everyone should always do before sharing any supposed “news” story—how can you make sure what you’re sharing isn’t complete BS?
Here are four suggestions from Shannon Rauch, Ph.D. an assistant professor of psychology at Benedictine University at Mesa.
1) Get a Second Opinion
If the story is real, surely more than one other reputable news source will have covered it, right? Check on Google.
“If you can't find the information published elsewhere, it's likely because the other news outlets have done their research and rejected the story,” says Rauch.
Even if it has been widely reported, look at how the facts are presented elsewhere. “The recent story on the bacon-cancer link is a good example of this,” she says. “While the story appeared in many different places, the interpretation of the data varied.”
2) Is It Preaching to the Choir?
“Keep in mind that Facebook users are particularly likely to accept and share these if they confirm previously held beliefs,” says Rauch.
Anyone who already has a moral problem with the dairy industry will probably be quicker to share stories that support their beliefs, even if everything about it seems implausible or silly.
3) Even Non-Satirical Sites Publish Satire
Hopefully you already know that The Onion and Clickhole (and their unfunny third cousin The Daily Currant) are satire. (Even your parents should know that by now.) But did you know that legitimate news sources also dabble in comedy?
“Look for disclaimers,” Rauch advises. “Yes, the Huffington Post reported that Donald Trump wanted to buy Puerto Rico. The fact that it was satire appeared at the end of the article.”
4) Consider the Source on Social Media
Sorry to be a party poop, but yeah, you probably shouldn’t trust any stories shared on Twitter, Facebook, or your other favorite social media sites unless they come from a legitimate news source.
Rauch suggests that you “return to the practice of using news outlets for their news and social media for social interactions." Or use social to follow verified news sources.
But if your buddy, uncle, or grandma share a story from ZOMGYouWontBelieveThis.net, take it with a grain of salt or at least investigate the story before commenting or sharing.