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Busting Fake News: Evaluating Online Information: Social Media Survival Strategies

Beware the Filter Bubble

Eli Pariser's 2011 Ted Talk popularized the phrase 'filter bubble':  "As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a 'filter bubble' and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview."

BlueFeed, Red Feed: The Wall Street Journal created this visualization to provide a stark visual representation of the very different messages that Americans receive via social media based upon their political beliefs and browsing habits. It provides a rare, side-by-side look at how topics are treated within different populations and from different sources.

On the Media

The following tips from NPR's On the Media are particularly relevant when evaluating social network sources:

Evaluating Social Media Sources

Ask yourself questions about the source / social media account:

  • How old is the account?  If it is a new account with little history, be wary.
  • Is it an active account?  Are other stories / images posted to this account of a consistent quality?
  • Where is the account registered?  Can you identify a verifiable author for its posts?
  • Can you tell any of the following re: the author(s):  recent location, activity, reliability, bias, agenda?
  • Are the author(s) located in the area they are tweeting / posting about?
  • Are there associated accounts on other social media platforms related to this one that may provide additional information?
  • Who is in their network and who follows them?

Ask yourself questions about the content:

  • Can you find the original source?  If the post relies heavily on an image, you can use a reverse image search to find where it may have originated.
  • Identify keywords that will help you find other instances of the image (or video) online.  This can lead you to the earliest instance of it, and the source.
  • Once you find the source of an item, appraise that source like you would a traditional news story.  Can you corroborate the information from other sources?
  • Is there context for this content?  Are other posts related, and do they fill in additional details?
Storyful, a self-billed "social news agency" who monitors and verifies high-traffic social media stories, discusses their validation process with several examples.

Watch Out for Confirmation Bias


View this clip of political satire program The Colbert Report, first aired on October 17, 2005, for the origin of this Merriam-Webster 2006 Word of the Year.  Widely considered the antecedent to the Oxford Dictionaries' 2016 Word of the Year, "post-truth".

Learn About 'Ecological Trends' in the Social Media Landscape

Rumor Cascades, an article published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, tracks the propagation of thousands of rumors appearing on Facebook and infers the rates at which rumors from different categories and of varying truth value are uploaded and reshared.  (Note that three of the authors are Facebook employees.)