Separating fact from fiction on the Internet

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.
–C. H. Spurgeon

Surely Mark Twain would be amused to find the preceding quote regularly attributed to him. Funny how that is relevant to this post.

A constant source of heartburn for this blogger is the ease with which bad information is spread online. It is easy to do because much bad information looks like good information. There are many websites urban legends urban legendpurporting to be news or news-type sites. Many bad “news” stories are spread via social media without the veracity of the story being checked.

This is especially the case when the story is negative regarding someone or something the reader already opposes. There is virtually no story against President Obama some people will not believe and share. The worse it is the quicker it spreads. Recently I have seen these (among others):

A story about President Obama’s attempt to detonate a nuclear bomb in Charleston, S.C.

A story about Muslims being exempt from Obamacare at the expense of the rest of Americans. (Here’s the urban legend as debunked on Snopes.com.)

A story about Obama firing top generals after nuclear weapons went missing.

A report stating that all Americans would receive a microchip once Obamacare has been implemented.

None of these are true. Only one might contain a kernel of a possibility, but it is now conjecture. Yet in each case people spread these stories freely, sometimes hysterically.

Here are a few things to help you separate fact from fiction on the Internet.

1. Is the story being reported in major news outlets?
Some people are convinced the less a story is reported the more likely it is to be true. It is always evidence of a cover-up by the “Main Stream Media.” Except that it isn’t.

It is true that some news stories are broken on blogs or other social media. Remember, though, that all major news outlets exists to make money. Ninety-nine percent of the time they will catch up to a story because they want to have the readers.

Even if some outlets (CNN, MSBNC) are not reporting it, other outlets (FOX, Politico, Drudge, HuffPo) will.

2. Follow the links in the story.
This one is key to separating fact from fiction.

A specific bad content strategy exercised by some website owners is called “scraping.” It happens when the content from Website A is lifted in full and posted onto Website B. The entire story, often with pictures and links, appear on both sites identically. Sometimes Website B does not even give credit to Website A, but runs the article as original. (Here’s a good example.) This can actually happen multiple times with the same story as Website C scrapes B, then D scrapes C, etc.

If all the links are going back and forth between the same dozen or so websites, be suspicious of the story. Be doubly suspicious if the websites are Beforeitsnews.com, Whatdoesitmean.com, Conspiracytheories.com and the like. One urban legend I read this week had a link to Snopes in the story, a link supposedly to give credence to the legend. Apparently few people were clicking on the link because it was dead. If readers had gone to Snopes and searched for the story they would the truth.

3. Read beyond the headline.
Even good stories can be corrupted by lying headlines. Writers of articles on larger news sites are not always responsible for writing the headlines (it’s true). Often the writer of the headline does with the story exactly what to many of us do with the headline: scan and draw a conclusion. Do not do it.

This seems to be especially true with bogus stories. The headline is intentionally set up as a “gotcha” with the rest of the story following suit.

4. Does the website traffic in conspiracy theories? If so, pass it by.
It is true that a landfill contains the occasional rose but it is still a landfill. Some stories are shared thousands of times via social media from websites featuring stories about Area 51, the Illuminati, the Bilderburgers, the international Jewish banking cartel and how Michelle Obama was impregnated by aliens.

And we used to laugh when Grandma believed everything in the National Enquirer.

There are plenty of non-traditional, non-MSM websites and blogs that are accurate with news and fair with opinion. Some of them even lean left or right per your specific preference.

Virtually all heavily read websites exist to make money for their operators. There is no guarantee of accuracy simply because they hate Obama.

5. If it sounds suspect check Snopes.com or Urbanlegends.about.com.
This is the quickest and easiest way to determine whether a story has any truth to it or not.

6. Check the date on the story.
Often, since people are only reading the headlines, they pass on a story that is several years old and has already been debunked a dozen times over. The date is not always obvious from the headline and excerpt. Click the link and check the date. It might clue you in as to whether the story should be shared.

So, does sharing of fictional news and urban legends happen often? Yes. It does.

In the case of the false Muslim Obamacare story (key word here was “dhimmitude”) a single Facebook post with the entire bogus story (already debunked) was shared more than 125,000 times. The story of the Obamacare microchip has been shared from a single website more than 227,000 times. Do you find it hard to believe thousands and thousands of times these bogus stories were passed along by Christ’s followers as if they were true? Me either.

Why does any of this matter?

It matters because followers are Jesus are supposed to contend for truth. We should pay attention to rumor, innuendo, and outright lies, to avoid them or debunk them. May it never be said of us that our political allegiances outstripped our commitment to God’s kingdom. Let us not carelessly traffic in lies instead of passionately contending for truth.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Michael Young

    You know, I wanna show this article to the guy who says everything you see on the internet is true, just to confuse him/her.

  • tshf

    Good article Marty. I also look at sites: politifact.com and factcheck.org, especially for political stories. Some argue that some fact checker sites are biased, but they all give you more links you can follow and usually point to specific details that you can check yourself (which bogus sites never do). Thanks!

    • martyduren

      Excellent suggestions.

  • Are you a government shill or something? All those stories are true! I’m wearing my Obama-chip right now. It’s making me want to talk like Harry Caray and download Jeremiah Wright sermons. Help?!

  • Wendy

    Keep in mind, all the sites we use to doubl cgck if a story is true are also on the internet and may not be propagating truth.