Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Social media, lies, and more lies

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” 
Mark Twain*

Can you determine the difference between a truth and a lie on social media? This crucial skill could potentially affect your health, your checkbook, and almost certainly your social life.

Below are a few tips for weeding through the morass of "facts" on social media (and online).

1.  Learn how to accurately evaluate information
(both in print and online). 

                                           "The problem with internet quotes is that you can't always depend on their accuracy"
is something Abraham Lincoln never said.
Common things to look for include authority, currency, relevancy, accuracy, and purpose.
Be aware, however, that these factors can vary depending on the context of the information.  "Currency" for a medical journal is not the same thing as currency for literary criticism, or for a movie review.   Resist the urge to share a mind-boggling "fact" you've found on social media until you can verify it. Otherwise, you'll just be spreading misinformation.

2.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Photo taken by Milton H. Greene (now in public domain); obtained through
Wikimedia Commons. Text added via Pinwords.com by Yvonne Mulhern.

Did you know that there are people out there with advanced degrees in information organization and related fields, who specialize in helping people find accurate, relevant sources both in print and online?
They're called librarians.  And they really want to help you.
No joke. 

In the meantime, here are two quick tips for when you're not sure about the veracity of your online sources.

Tip 1:  Perhaps you're not sure if that latest email from a relative warning about what sounds like an urban legend is for real.  A quick check at snopes.com may help.

 Tip 2: Tired of plowing through pages of questionable results for an academic assignment?
An easy way to cut out extraneous sources from your Google search is to insert site:.gov or site:.edu next to your search words.  This limits your results to government or education (college and university) websites, respectively.  Is every web page that ends in .edu or .gov necessarily relevant or helpful to your search?  No, but this does cut out a lot of chaff.  It also makes looking for information on potential health problems less horrifying. Better yet, confine Googling your health symptoms to recommended sites.

3.  Verify, verify, verify.
Screenshot of tweet from the Associated Press.
Hint: Googling does not always help with verifying. 

For example, the quotation falsely attributed to Marilyn Monroe (above) pulls up over 130,000 results online.  To verify a quote, your best bet is to find a book of quotations put out by a reliable publisher. In April of 2014 the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked and this message was tweeted to several million followers: "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." Less than a minute later, the Dow Jones took a dive of over 150 points (but recovered several minutes later, as news of the hoax spread).

If you see people tweeting about a celebrity death, an easy way to check this is to type the celebrity's full name into Google for confirmation. Look for results from well-known newspaper websites (instead of blogs or other forms of social media).

The above are just a few suggestions to get you started on the road to becoming a more critical information consumer.  The saying "don't believe everything that you read" is still as true as ever--maybe even more so.

Note: Mark Twain may not have actually said this.


Galvin, Joe. "A Year In Debunks: Separating Social Media Fact From Social Media Fiction." Storyful blog.      http://blog.storyful.com/2013/12/16/a-year-in-debunks-separating-social-media-fact-from-social-media-fiction/#.U-4jAk1OW75 

Shapiro, Fred.  "Quotes Uncovered--How Lies Travel."  Freakonomics blog.

"AP Twitter feed hacked; no attack at White House." USA Todayhttp://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2013/04/23/obama-carney-associated-press-hack-white-house/2106757/


is a cross-collaborative initiative where
Tarleton State University students, faculty, and staff organize
annual social media conference and produce a peer-reviewed social media research journal.
Follow us on
Twitter and Facebook. for the latest social media news, research, and more.

Yvonne is a TSMRI co-director and librarian who likes old movies and new media.


  1. It's amazing how much false information we get from social media. I find myself constantly using google to verify things, but I never stop to verify the validity of those hits. It's also a great idea to look up quotes! I never put any thought in to the fact that I might be falsely crediting people for quotes that aren't even theirs. Great article!

  2. This was a very informative blog. I think because we are in such an "instant" generation, and information is at our fingertips all the time, it's easy to take for granted the truth. We don't want to take the time to research the truth and too many times end up believing what we read. As educators, it is imparative that we learn to evaulate and verify information and to ask for help if we can't find the truth. Then, we can teach our students to do the same.

  3. I have seen several of these examples on FB and either laugh because they are so far out there, or wonder why on earth someone would forward or share something that was obviously not real. If I don't know if it's true or not, I go to Snopes.com. Great information! Thanks!
    Monica P

  4. I think social media can be both good and bad. For instance, Facebook is a great way to stay in contact with family and friends who you may not get to see often. On the other hand, facebook can also do damage to a person's reputation if you give out too much information. There are also privacy issues with facebook because your account could be hacked into. An example of false information online, could include hoaxes about celebrities dying. To me, as an educator, it would probably be best to just stay away from social media. This will keep my name clear and me out of any kind of drama.

  5. It is bizarre to me how more and more frequently false information is being shared online. For example, the countless information, both true and false, about Ebola that is in all forms of media these days. Another example is the numerous times that false celebrity deaths that go around the internet. It is a shame to me because it makes it hard to believe true information that is shared. This article was an informative and great reminder to fact check information before sharing and telling others!
    Megan Wells

  6. I think this information is extremely useful! I think everyone should be more aware of the accuracy of the information they are using from the Internet. I've never heard of snopes.com but plan on using it in the future. I think everyone would benfit from this information.

    Caitlin C

  7. Brandon T.
    I already knew that not all information found on the internet is true, but one thing that stood out to me is the White House post. It's amazing how one post from someone can cause such an effect. Personal research must be conducted prior to believing something posted by a random person. Websites like Wikipedia have become known as places to go for information. While Wikipedia has SOME valid information, not everything found on the site is 100% true. We must stop being so gullible and lazy and actually do some research on valid sites.

  8. Lauryn M.
    I think this was spot on. I know as a student and researcher I am afraid to ask where to find information. I know librarians are there for a reason but sometimes I feel like I should know how to do it already. Accurate information can be difficult to find now because of the wide range of "sources" on the web. The internet has changed dramatically and will continue to change. We have to be responsible for finding credible information and knowing how to determine if it is credible or not. Although some resources are decent for quick information, it is not always accurate. Conducting accurate research is critical for not only our benefit but our future students'. We have to practice what we preach!

  9. This was informative and useful information to use as a guideline. Social media has really become a source of news for a great number of people however, it is not always the best place to find your news. There are often exaggerated and false stories that just about anyone can post on social media sites. The above information gives good go-to examples to follow when discovering news stories. Always check the source and don't believe everything you read.

  10. This is great information that all users should read. It is extremely important that social media users know what is out there. I see misguided information all the time. Sadly, there are people who believe that if it is on Facebook, then it must be true. I greatly appreciate your advice and resources. I will definitely use them in my future!

  11. These are great tips for gathering information from the internet. When researching for different things you always need to be mindful of what you are reading and believing. You do not want to get stuck going off information that is not true. It is important to follow up your research and make sure it is accurate.
    Kourtney R.

  12. Great information in this article, Ive seen alot of the quotes a lot of people use and I dont think many people actually take the time to check that it is factual. People really should not rely on everything they read on the internet without knowing if it is a credible source.

  13. I think this information is extremely helpful! Know where to go and how to check the validity of information is essential these days. With all of the different social media platforms available to anyone, false information can run rampant within seconds. This has been proven over and over again with the Ebola scare. Unfortunately, there are people on the internet who just like to scare people. So they post the most obscene "facts" because they know people will spread them around and get all worked up! I think this post should be made available to everyone.
    Stephanie S

  14. Great article! Many times I see information on facebook that is not true yet has thousands of shares. It is important that everyone uses the hints you provided to check the validity of the information they are posting.
    Another point you made were the quotes, I can't believe how many times I have seen the Marilyn Monroe one online, yet she never said it. I will never understand why someone would miscredit a person who is no longer here.

  15. This blog gives great tips about fake and real information found online. Everyone should always research what they see online because many people publish fake information and if you copy that and paste it elsewhere, you would just be continuing passing this fake information. I also think it is a good idea to research quotes because those are the ones that most people believe right away and they are easily spread through social media.

  16. Braukel Beggs
    It is amazing how fast information on the internet can spread. I know that we see this daily on our social media sights. If you are anything like me, you have stopped reading all of the articles for the fact that you do not know if the information being shared is true or not. This article really opened my eyes to how much information we find on the internet is actually true. I will be using some of the tips while researching. In today's time technology makes it so easy for information to be shared and spread and it is so easy for false information to be spread just as much or more than the truth.

  17. Great and very useful information. The tips are great. I am guilty of believing everything that I see online. When I don't know something I always Google it and assume that the information is true and accurate.

  18. Thank you for sharing this great informative article!! Its so important to know, to not believe everything you come across on the internet. Its always good to get your resources from a valid , credible website. Now a days all you see in social media is pictures of famous people and a quote "they said". I have been so gullible when I have seen these quotes but now I know to research. And I couldnt agree more if you need help finding credible resources ask your local librarians. They are here for us all.
    Jordan Dominguez

  19. Great information in this post! I have had friends come to me saying my favorite actor or musician has died when it wasn't at all true. There is so much information on the internet that it can be difficult to sift through it all to find accurate information. These are great tips that anyone who uses social media or does their research online should know.

  20. Awesome information! I always use Google to look up information. I feel I should take a step back and make sure I am reading correct information before I give false credit.Society is always in such a rush that we believe anything people say without looking up the truth for ourselves.

  21. This article brought up a lot of valid points. There are constantly meme's and pictures trending on Facebook with not a shred of truth to them. People need to verify the information of "shocking news" before re-posting. However, in reality it is always more important to be first instead of correct.

  22. Social media is a great form of communication, however, it does not always provide accurate or factual information. It is used for social purposes, but the lesson here is to research the information from reliable and well-known sources so that you have a source to back up your answers. There are pros and cons to most social media tools, but it is important to have the correct information before inputting your opinions.

  23. Using social media has its advantages and disadvantages. There is endless information for you to look through but this information is often misleading or fabricated. Social media can be a good resource for information, however using this information as fact without doing your due diligence is irresponsible. I will use the tips provided for my next research project to cut the time I spend looking for pertinent information that is validated by a reliable source.

  24. Great tips thank you for sharing, love your choice for quotes :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...