The internet has offered me a new source of endless entertainment. It’s quite simple, really. As I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed, if I see a story or a quote that I find questionable, I’ll simply plug a few of the keywords along with the term “Snopes” into my search bar and see what I find. Nine times out of ten, the first result is an article from the fact-checking website that debunks the claims of the story I’m checking and offers compelling evidence against it.
Once I’ve confirmed my suspicions (and usually checked a couple of other sources just to be sure), I go back to the original post in question. As respectfully as I can, I write a comment indicating that the content is fake and linking to the Snopes article. Sometimes, I even explain a little bit about the history of how the hoax spread around. And I usually end my comment with a simple request: “Please check your sources.”
A funny thing happens after I leave these sorts of comments. I come back later and find that the post is still there. Sometimes, the original poster will have liked my comment or even replied to it, but the misleading post remains. On the person’s profile. In public. After they’ve already been told that what they’re sharing is untrue.
This absolutely baffles me. I can sympathize with those who fall into the trap of sharing something that’s untrue. I’ve been guilty of not properly checking my sources once or twice myself. But once I found out that I had posted something that wasn’t accurate, I quickly corrected it by either updating the post with an apology or by taking it down altogether. I would never want something untrue or downright fake associated with my profile, my public image. And I certainly wouldn’t want to lead those who read my posts astray. Yet, I see people leave this sort of content on their pages all the time. I just don’t get it.
I think it’s important to note that I’m not saying people should stop sharing things that I disagree with. I’m aware that my opinions aren’t infallible, and I’m happy to have civil, constructive, intelligent conversation. But what I’m not willing to do is take seriously content that has been proven to be fake.
It’s one thing to accidentally share misinformation. It happens to the best of us. But once it’s been definitively proven that the content you shared is false, it is no longer an accident. It becomes intentional, purposeful, and downright dangerous. Leaving content like this on your profile is damaging in several ways.
On the most basic level, it spreads misinformation. We all know that information is a powerful thing. It influences people’s beliefs and decisions. It affects elections and world events. And it can either reinforce or call into question ideas held by those who are exposed to it. That’s why we need good, true information. If we want to make informed decisions, improve the world, and just be all-around intelligent people, it starts with the information that we’re taking in and sharing. If that information is false, then everything we build on that foundation will be flawed.
We humans are prone to confirmation bias, the tendency to prioritize information that reinforces our already-held beliefs. If I see something on Facebook that I agree with, I’m more likely to spend time on it and even to share it. This is perfectly natural. But if I allow that confirmation bias to lead me down the path of sharing information that I know to be fake, then I’m not making a positive contribution to the conversation. I’m just making things worse for everyone.
Sharing fake news also hurts your credibility. Sure, some people who agree with you might not care whether your data is true or not, but those who care about intellectual integrity are going to come to the conclusion that you aren’t a reliable source on information. From then on, nothing you share is going to hold any weight with other people because you have a track record of sharing things that aren’t true. And if that’s the case, what’s the point in sharing things in the first place?
No one wants to be the fake news person. People don’t like the fake news person. Don’t be the fake news person.
But most importantly, purposefully sharing false information is a lie. There is no justification for intentionally spreading fake news. No belief, no opinion, no ideological claim is worth more than your integrity. When you knowingly share something that’s fake, you are lying to your friends and family, the people you’re supposed to be the most honest with. I know we all have our beliefs that we want to defend, but is it really worth lying to the people who mean the most to us?
At the end of the day, good ideas are backed up by true, high-quality data. If you believe that what you have to say has value (as we all do), then don’t settle for something that’s fake and hope that no one will notice. Give your ideas, your friends and family, and ultimately yourself the respect they’re due and quit it with the fake news. We can do better. We deserve better. So let’s do better.