My personal Facebook (FB) page, contains a beloved and steady mix of photos, cat videos, lexical jokes (my friends are also word geeks, what a surprise!), music recommendations, and vacation pictures to drool over, as well as religious, health-related, or political discussions that provide a wide range of proof of accuracy or validity. This particularly steady stream of political, religious, or news-oriented comments ranges from the far-right to the far-left and generally consists of shares or copy-and-pastes from the FB feeds of non-friends, friends of friends, or from questionable blogs.
Most of us tolerate this steady steam of commentary and ignore it; some of us, at times, try to push against the ideas with which we disagree. Sometimes, we get caught up in an argument with someone and each person brings out their own set of quotations or citations to support a “side,” usually bringing in the support from unreferenced sources. Mostly, we wish our friends would sort the information grain from the hearsay chaff before they post or share.
Frequently, when one follows through the poster’s share to find the original sources for the claims or in order to determine the statements’ accuracy, one finds that somewhere down the line, misinformation has been quoted, the information is out of date, or has been deliberately taken out of context. Such shared posts are often full of inaccurate information. Yet the fact that one’s own friend has posted it on one’s own feed tends to give the post the weight of their approval, which in the same way, puts one’s own integrity on the line with sharing it to someone else. This is doubly why one shouldn’t just share without verifying the facts as much as possible.
This is true not only of “political” shares but also very frequently is also true about shares that relate to science, experiential, or medical “facts,” such as claims for health cures (“Drs recommend you never eat sugar….”) or environmental issues (“Something-or-other is poisonous because of such-and-such….”) or experiences (“I was kidnapped by aliens and taken to….”). There are some claims that are proven true and worth sharing—don’t get me wrong. However, not all claims are created equally. The person who posts must at least try to verify the things posted or shared before posting or sharing them. Google the key words, check it out on Snopes.com, or follow the trail of blogs that quote that resource. Usually, it takes less than one minute to find out that something is questionable or already proven to be false.
Доверяй, но проверяй—“Trust, but verify,” as the Russian translates into English—an old Russian saying that became well known in the western world when Reagan used it in talks about Soviet nuclear disarmament to say that the verifiability of the procedures should justify the level of trust bestowed in the process. Don’t blindly trust, but check that your trust is merited by the facts. To take it a step farther, only believe and share what you know to be true, as verified to the best of your ability; don’t blindly repost what people say because the name of a famous person is attached to the post or image, or because it tickles your ear and you wish it were true, or that you are “friends” with the poster.
Your respect for your friends does not stretch to the point where you must accept as accurate those things that are not accurate. When your friends don’t bother to check on the things that they share with you, why should you, like a robot, do the same and share untrue things with your friends, risking your own reputation?
Don’t squander good will by posting things that you have not bothered to vet for accuracy, because your reputation for truth suffers when you do not at least try to verify the share. Everyone makes mistakes in this, but some people don’t even try to not make mistakes.
Don’t be one of those people who just shares without fact-checking, because your integrity is at stake: you want people to believe what you say and take seriously what you believe.
See posts on my blog, susanwlavelle.com for more on this topic: