In response to our article The Hoax You Keep Falling For, a reader asked. “What sites do you recommend we check to verify truth or accuracy of a post?”
First of all, I know that there sometimes big disagreements between generally reliable sources over certain political issues. Did this person lie? Is this campaign ad true? What I’m talking about here is flat out fraud. Stories generally without an ounce of truth in them.
For news stories involving kidnappings, crime sprees, murders or billionaires suddenly deciding to randomly hand out money, check your favorite local or national news source. Things like that tend to make the news. I promise you that if Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are handing out millions it will be on every news website and every news program, not just of Facebook.
Just plain Google it. If a specific town is mentioned for something outlandish sounding, try looking up a newspaper or media outlet in that area. It’s likely they covered it.
If it refers to your town, you can call up a local news outlet to see if they’ve heard anything about it. Or be kind and just ask on their Facebook page or send an e-mail. I used to work in a newsroom and I’ve experienced a flood of calls pouring in after someone decides to start sharing a fake Facebook post.
One I remember in particular, was the story about a teen being kidnapped and having her hair cut and dyed in the mall bathroom. It was changed to name the local mall, and of course, parents freaked out. This story made the rounds in multiple countries, each time with the location changed.
Coming from a news background, I promise you that if anyone attempted to kidnap a teen in the mall and cut off her hair in the bathroom, it would be the lead for several days.
But the most important truth detector is your common sense. If you were to copy and paste a status, how in the world would a service with one billion users keep track of who did that? For anything that promises something to someone who forwards an e-mail, there is no centralized Internet hub that keeps track of how many times something is forwarded or who forwards it.
When Bill Gates actually wanted to give away his Microsoft billions, he started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to give money to causes he believes in. That’s what rich people do when they want to give out their cash. Does it make sense that someone who wanted help folks out would hand out the money randomly? If Mark Zuckerberg were giving away his money randomly to anyone who shared a Facebook status, he could end up giving it to Bill Gates or Donald Trump or maybe to a criminal.
Another hard fact of life is that contests are required to have rules. Usually a lot of them. While your local bakery might give away a dozen donuts for liking a post, a big company is going to have rules to make sure they don’t get sued.
So, use your brain before you post.