Maybe they should have checked first

To quote Dennis Miller “I don’t want get off on a rant here, but…”

A few years ago, I wrote a post about being a responsible forwarder — someone who forwards articles of interest to other people in your network. While this can be a fantastic way to stay in contact and provide value to your network, there is a dark side. I’ve had a few recent incidents which forced me to revisit the topic.

All the rules I mentioned before still hold. Send it to only one person at a time, attach a note explaining its importance, avoid cutesy stories, inflammatory political screeds, and religious tracts. Above all else, though, please, please, please, check your facts.

I cannot tell you the number of times someone has sent me a message directly or posted it on LinkedIn or Facebook with a story and/or a call to action which has turned out to be either false or woefully out of date. These days, it takes about a second and a half to verify the truth of a particular story. In case you are wondering, though, here are a few warning signs that the message you are about to forward may only have a fleeting relationship with facts.

  1. It portrays a political viewpoint or figurehead as either divinely inspired or spawn of the devil. Much as we might desire the simplicity, rare indeed is the modern situation which we can render down to a battle of good versus evil.
  2. It uses the actions of an individual who belongs to a group or even a small segment of that group to make general, sweeping statements about that group or the society at large. Just because some teenagers hold a protest in Texas doesn’t mean all teenagers are universally striving to topple the government.
  3. It makes the claim that it has the real story.
  4. It claims that the story has been downplayed in the media and this is some sort of indication of a vast conspiracy to keep the people in the dark.
  5. It contains no specific information which you can then verify via a trusted third party.
  6. It contains no citation for original sources which would allow you to research yourself and come up with your own conclusions. Caveat: Just because it does have citations doesn’t mean it’s accurate. The original sources may be just as flawed.
  7. It makes the claim that Snopes says it’s true. They might, but don’t take anyone else’s word for it.
Even if the story passes the above tests, still check it with one or two of the reputable fact checking services. The ones I’ve used in the past are:

Really, this all comes down to taking responsibility for what you put your name on. You probably would refer someone to your network whom you didn’t think could do the job. That would make you look bad. Wouldn’t forwarding inaccurate information have a similar result?
Do you have any fact checking sites beyond those I’ve listed?
Photo by Victor Victoria at en.wikipedia