Check yourself: How to avoid sharing misinformation online

Check yourself: How to avoid sharing misinformation online
Check yourself: How to avoid sharing misinformation online

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He’s also the co-founder of AgentLoop. He “selectively retired” in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column is published every Wednesday.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and more give people immediate access to “news” and provide a publishing platform that is simple to use and has a wide reach.

You see a compelling story and click “share.” Off that story goes to your followers and often to the public at large. Others see it, click the share button and the cycle continues.

What if that story is misleading or fake? Perhaps you determine that and delete your post. But you can’t delete the shares. You’ve just passed along misleading information that will continue to spread across the internet.

In the real estate business, your integrity and reputation are everything. It doesn’t take long to damage both, and sharing misleading information certainly does nothing to improve either. So, how does one avoid sharing misinformation in online content?

The problem

It’s too easy to share. All it takes is a click or a tap and you’re done. It is also quite simple not to think before clicking that share button. Then there’s the sheer volume of misinformation out there along with the unreliable and far too biased sources.

Sometimes you have to wonder if there is anything out there that isn’t unreliable.

Given the volume of misinformation circulating and the ease of sharing it, the best defense against spreading misinformation is self-defense.

The solutions

Don’t share anything. Spreading misinformation can’t happen if you don’t share (or create) anything. This isn’t much of a solution, though. Basic human nature practically forces us to share, but “keep it to yourself” is the only foolproof solution for not sharing misleading content.

Share from reliable sources. The internet is jammed full of “news” sites. Some are good, some are bad and some border on being criminal. Virtually every media site is biased from a political perspective. Skewing to the political left or right is one thing — and difficult to avoid. What should be avoided when sharing are hyperpartisan, pseudoscience and fringe/extreme sites.

This interactive media bias chart is a good place to check the bias of many “mainstream” media sites. For less popular news sites, searching Media Bias / Fact Check can tell you if a source is politically biased and/or has a history of publishing poorly fact checked material.

Fact check everything. First and foremost, everything you post or share should be fact checked. Yes, even if you’re sharing directly from a reliable source. If you’re sharing a news-related article, Duke University has a global directory of global fact checking sites. The Associated Press also shows its fact checking on numerous articles here. If you’re sharing something a user posted to social media, you cannot assume they fact checked it first.

Ask yourself who is writing what you’re considering sharing and why. Are they a subject matter expert? Do they have some sort of agenda? Please note, having an agenda isn’t necessarily bad, but it could mean the writer is overly biased, or not sharing both sides of the story.

Recognize your own biases. Everyone has biases. Welcome to being human. Confirmation bias, the tendency to believe what we want to believe, happens to one degree or another with everyone. Both legitimate sources and those with nefarious intentions take advantage of our confirmation bias and other biases as well. If you keep your biases in mind, you’re less likely to share misinformation.

Use “STP.” Stop, think, pause — before clicking the share button. Because it is so easy to share something, it’s often done with little to no thought. Simply stopping your scrolling, thinking and pausing before clicking can help keep you from sharing misinformation.

Check the date of what you’re sharing. While sharing something like, “Oh my, I can’t believe John Doe is dead! RIP!” isn’t problematic in and of itself, when you find out that Mr. Doe actually died seven years ago, you’ll look rather foolish.

What will make you look even more foolish is sharing a celebrity’s death notice while they are alive and well. This happens with surprising frequency and “death hoaxes” abound. In 1998, a pre-written obituary for Bob Hope was accidentally published before his death. With tears in his eyes, a Congressman announced the “death” on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Of course, his speech was being shown live on national television and was subsequently picked up by all the major networks. Don’t be this person.

Just stop, think, and pause before passing anything along.

Read past headlines. The web is full of glaring examples of people sharing without reading past a headline. Clickbait headlines abound in today’s media; you should never share an article you haven’t read.

Be aware of satire sites. Satire, a way of criticizing people or ideas in a humorous way, especially in order to make a political point, is used frequently on the internet and in social media. Entire sites are dedicated to “reporting” news using satire. While you’d think it would be stunningly obvious not to share satire as real news, it happens all the time. Just because an article is found by clicking “news” on a website doesn’t make it legitimate news. STP folks, STP.

If you see something, say something. Finally, if you see someone sharing misinformation, say something to them. You don’t have to openly blast them; you can always send a private message. Alternatively, just be tactful in a comment. “This information isn’t correct because…” or “Here’s a link to an article showing the full information.” Yes, it’s easier to scroll by, shaking your head, but it doesn’t help anyone.

Play an active role in stopping the spread of misinformation or you’re almost as guilty as those spreading it.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and co-founder of AgentLoop living in the Texas Coastal Bend. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. Called “the hardest working retiree ever,” as the founder of Jay.Life he writes, speaks and consults on all things real estate.

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