Of late I find myself getting into a bit of a frothy when folks share sensationalist BS and hoaxes via social media. Seriously, folks, there is already so much garbage out there, you *don't* need to add to the pile. However, something else I've realised is that many folks don't stop and think before they share nor do they possess the skills to tell when they're (sometimes) unwittingly sharing garbage. So, here are my hot, quick tips to help guide you.
VERIFY YOUR SOURCES
Recently an unidentified voice message was doing the round on the community WhatsApp groups, where a chap was mouthing off a currently popular conspiracy theory. I immediately smelled a rat. Why? The guy did not identify who he was nor who he represented (always a warning bell). Nor could he back up any of his so-called facts with actual names and dates. So here's the deal, see what the source of your information is. If it's not an official news site or authority within the field then for the love of dog, don't share the information.
Here's an example: someone claims that a spate of fires in a region are being started by arsonists with political motivations. If that someone isn't the police, the official spokesperson of your local Fire & Rescue or a credible news source (like your local daily paper) then it's probably some idiot trying to get everyone all wound up with his fear-mongering. Avoid! Don't share! Don't pay attention to this!
CHECK YOUR EMOTIONS
How do you feel after you've read or listened to the supposed "news"? Are you angrier than usual? Do you feel like you want to go and punch someone? If so, then there's a very good chance that that particular snippet of "news" has been created specifically for that purpose – to get you all GRRRRR riled up and emotional. People who're all GRRRRR are known for making poor decisions. You're being manipulated. Take a step back. Take a breath. Go look for other news sources to compare to the one you've just read. Look at the language usage. See which one is offering a more measured response.
We all know that there are loads of wingnuts and Flat Earthers out there who believe in chemtrails and Reptilians and all manner of really crazy stuff. And they will try to get others to share in their cray-cray by the way that they share their information. Remember this: every weird hoax doing the rounds has a little grain of truth. This is what makes it so appealing for us. We don't like situations that are difficult to explain. We want to have order in our lives, to be able to say that ABC is the reason for XYZ.
First off, it's okay that we don't have all the answers. It's okay to say "I don't know" and spend time looking for a solution ourselves or waiting for the experts to deliver a report. Remember also that all that fake news and the clever hoaxes out there pander to our own biases. So when you read a story that makes you go hmmmm, first check with yourself.
For instance, if you're religious, you're less likely to question the authority of your local pastor or imam. However your religious leader is also just human, and is himself prone to fallacies.
So, check your biases before you go off on a half-cocked tangent. If something sounds unbelievable or just plain odd, go ask the experts. Phone your local police station, speak to a medical doctor, or your city or town's helpline. Or, if you are faced with strange advice (the most recent one being folks claiming that little bags of water taped to windows repel flies), go check it out on Snopes.com. HOAX-SLAYER is also a fantastic site, among others.
You really have no excuse. Google is your friend. Question everything and go do your research before you share misinformation.