Read along with Ep. 18 of The Subversive Liberty Podcast!
We exist within in a sea of information when we scroll through our social media feeds. Pictures of family, cute animal videos, the dankest memes, engagements (do you keep count too?), marriages, divorce fall out, diary entries you’re not sure why people share, educational content, interviews, news, opinion, analysis, and the innumerable advertisements for products, services, and entertainment all compete for your attention each time you unlock your phone or computer. Leaving aside for another conversation how algorithms decide what information is presented in the first place, one surefire way for a website like this one to grow their audience is having their readers (like you!) share the content they create, if successful enough you can even turn a passion into an income stream, such is the way of things in a market, and the internet makes it easier than ever to achieve (or at least that what I keep hearing).
This also means people can capitalize on the relatively low cost to make content that is driven by the standard of driving clicks or shares, and not spreading accurate information. Salacious media headlines are nothing new, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to be clever to entice people into reading your content, but as a consumer (which we all are) you should be wary and skeptical when you come across a story that is too good to be true.
So what then is an information consumer to do? I’m assuming of course if you’re still reading this you prefer not to disseminate false information, and don’t like looking foolish when you share a story that’s too good to be true. Well, in such an ecosystem (if you will) the best way to thrive is by developing skills that allow you to sift through the information you are given to know what is accurate information, and what is worth sharing with your network and to people you care about and are acquainted with. Here are three simple practices on how to guard yourself against sharing vapid share bait, and clear out the misleading stories from our newsfeeds.
1. If the headline is too good to be true, it probably is.
The point of a headline is to get viewers to an article (or video, podcast, etc), and we all get sucked in by a headline that comes up short after analysis. What you should never do then is share an article that presents as fact with some objective claim simply because you agree with the headline as studies have shown to occur. (Statistical headlines by the way are often your earliest indicator)
2. Check the source
Maybe you know a page always puts out good stuff so you share their content, maybe you like to help out your friend who has a small website so you tell people about it, or maybe you’re one of those “sharing for later” people (even though there’s a save feature). A good practice to adopt however is to scroll to the bottom of the page and find the “about us” or “welcome” section and give them a quick once over if you’re unfamiliar with a page. At the very least this will stop you from sharing purposeful satire as gospel truth.
3. Follow the hyperlinks
It’s amazing what you can uncover by following the hyperlinks provided by an author. Sometimes you find your questions answered which means you’re not sharing deceptive or manipulated information. Equally helpful though disappointing is when you are taken in by sharebait, the story quickly unravels. You’ll be surprised at how low of editorial standards seem to exist in cyberspace, and developing this skill is the one sure way to protect yourself from being made a fool to your peers and family.
If these tips seem basic and simple, it’s because they are. The point is choosing as a news consumer to take the extra steps before you pass information along to your network. Nobody’s perfect, falling victim to clickbait sharebait is going to happen as long as people implicitly trust sources that give off an aura of credibility and play into our confirmation biases so make sure to share this article with your friends so they learn ;).
But really, the way media influences our perception is an interest of mine and something that I want to talk and write about, So if you were looking for more that plays into this idea I would recommend Ep. 0 The 10 Guide-Posts, Don’t be The Dodo, You Can’t Kill Hibernating Bears in Alaska, Trump’s Twitter (or what can I do about the war?), Ep. 14 I don’t know and maybe that’s the point, and Now that the election is over, what should you do?