Worried about fake political news? Just don't repost

Worried about fake political news? Just don't repost
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As we enter the 2020 political season, remember this: The internet is full of fake information and distortions. The Muller Report documents efforts by one government to influence U.S. elections with fake stories. Facebook is plagued with billions of bots and fake accounts, and its CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Trump order targets TikTok, WeChat | TikTok fires back | Chinese firms hit hard in aftermath Female lawmakers pressure Facebook to crack down on disinformation targeting women leaders Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE has said it will not regulate fake political ads. Twitter will ban paid political ads but not other political commentary, even though MIT researchers have shown that lies travel faster and further on Twitter than does truth. Rand Corporation has chronicled what it calls “truth decay” in public life. The Pew Research Center notes partisan polarization produces distinct media consumption habits and conceptions of what are facts and truth. 

We live in our own political bubbles and we cannot resist reposting information, even though so much is false. We do it because we are convinced that posts by friends, family or political parties must be true since they reinforce our deeply held prejudices or beliefs. Psychologists tell us confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance account for this tendency.

We are all complicit in producing fake news and alternative facts. The solution to combating it is easy — do not repost anything, ever.

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Okay, so you cannot really resist this urge; what are other suggestions? 

Do not repost something that has been reposted by someone else, even if you know that person.  Do you know if he or she vetted the original post?

Do not repost anything by anyone you do not know personally.

Do not repost anything unless you have read the entire piece, and not simply the headline, and you know what the content is about.

Check the original link. If you have received something, check to see if the original web link produces an original story. If there is a dead link, it is likely fake news.

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If it is too good to be true, it probably is not true. There is still an often-reposted link claiming that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE said in a 1998 People Magazine interview that if he ran for president it would be as a Republican because members of that party are dumb. There was no such interview or story, but Democrats love to repost it because it makes them feel good. Conversely, Republicans have reposted the fake news about a Washington pizzeria allegedly tied to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick Ron Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe Juan Williams: Older voters won't forgive Trump for COVID MORE that supposedly was the front for a child sex abuse scandal. This was fake, but nonetheless led to one person showing up at the place and shooting a gun, demanding the children be released.

Do not get all or most of your news from social media. Go to original news sources such as newspapers, newsweeklies, mainstream television or other services. Even then, consult more than one source. For all their problems, real journalists still have standards they must follow.

If you agree with the post or source 100 percent of the time, do not repost. The purpose of news is to challenge you with facts we do not know, or get us to question our deeply held implicit biases and beliefs, not reinforce them. Any source with which you completely agree all the time is not credible; it is pandering to you and luring you into false facts or beliefs.

Do not repost any news story more than 48 hours old. Social media are plagued with news stories that are old — for example, old polling data and accounts of things that President Trump or someone else said or did in the past. Old news is dated. Even if the facts were accurate at the time of publication, time changes things. We learn new facts that date old news. Moreover, once accurate stories taken out of context can become lies or distortions.

Do not repost anything you know is false simply to do so for comic relief or humor. No one knows that you posted a fake story for humorous reasons.

Do not repost anything unless you follow the journalistic standard of securing at least two independent sources to corroborate the original post. Remember “All the President’s Men” by Bob Woodward and Carl BernsteinCarl BernsteinBob Woodward talked out of exposing Brett Kavanaugh as anonymous source by Washington Post editor: report Second Bob Woodward book on Trump presidency set for September release Carl Bernstein accuses GOP senators of cover-up: 'Shameful episode in our history' MORE? The Washington Post reporters needed at least one more independent verification before they published stories linking Richard Nixon to Watergate. If one views social media and the internet as sources of facts or news, search out other sources that document the same facts.

Do not repost anything with headlines including phrases such as “could,” “may” or “might.”  These stories are speculative and subjunctive, and not necessarily fact-based.

Quite simply, do not repost. But if you absolutely cannot resist the urge, follow the above guidelines. Paraphrasing the old Smokey the Bear adage: Only you can prevent fake news.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @ProfDSchultz.