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Reader Beware – Separating Fact, Fake and Fiction On the Internet

Reader Beware – Separating Fact, Fake and Fiction On the Internet

By Susan Williams

I just finished watching the Netflix documentary FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.

If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s an account of the real life story of how an organization hired some super models and celebrities to fabricate an image of a music festival in the Caribbean that never actually happened.

This story was quite astounding – and also sobering. It demonstrated just how powerful images, social media and the internet can be in connecting people, generating a marketing buzz and ultimately separating people from their money.

In this story image was everything and the truth meant nothing. They managed to keep up the facade right until the time of the event and then the walls came crashing down around them. In the end, it seemed that the organizers were more concerned with the marketing of the image then in the actual success of the event.

As I watched this story unfold, I couldn’t help but think about the internet and ultimately the power that it holds.

There is nothing else in this world that can bring people together so quickly, get them whipped up into a frenzy and then only to discover that in fact it wasn’t true. As information and messages get communicated immediately, there is no time to vet and validate content so it can be transmitted and escalated around the world in minutes.

What I also found surprising is the spreading of false information is not just happening with younger people and social media. Older people are actually playing a larger role in perpetuating this. As reported by the Business Insider;

A new study by researchers at Princeton and New York University found that people over 65 years old were far more likely to share intentionally false or misleading information on Facebook than all other adults.”

Now, the good news is that this study found that the sharing of fake news wasn’t that prevalent across any of the generations however when it did happen, baby boomers were seven times more likely then their younger co-horts to share false content.

So how does this false content get generated and pushed into the mainstream?

I am definitely not an expert on this topic however I do think that we are discovering how some of this possibly works on a micro level through Booming Encore.

At Booming Encore, we have been fortunate enough to have created an audience that now has us ranked quite highly in terms of recognition and reputation for our content (thank you to everyone reading this by the way).

As a result of getting on some of these highly valued “lists” somewhere, we are being approached on a regular basis to share someone’s content, link to their website or write an article for them. This is all being offered with promises of sharing our content further through their networks and in some cases even offered money to do this with the request we do not reveal to our audience we are being paid by them (which by the way we never do).

Turns out there is some value to the links that we provide.

As I understand it, if a legitimate site links to another site as a reference point, it increases the value of that website in the eyes of google search and moves them up in the search ranking.

What is interesting is the requests that we receive look extremely legitimate and the websites they are referencing look very authentic.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. I don’t believe that many of these people are who they say they are.  

Often when I push for further validation of their identity or details of their subject matter expertise for example either through a video call or their LinkedIn profiles, they disappear. I never hear from them again.

So all this makes me wonder, who is actually writing all this content out there and how as content consumers do we know whether it’s coming from a legitimate and reliable source?

The IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) has provided some guidance on how to spot whether something is fact or fiction;

Consider the Source

Who is generating this information? Check their website and their credentials. Does anyone else have the same story or are they alone in sharing it? Does the website tell you about them and who is on their team?

Check the Author

Who is writing the story? Are they credible? Are they real?

Check the Date

Check the date of the story. Often things can be re-posted so it’s no longer relevant.

Check Your Biases

Are you wanting to believe something because it aligns with your own thinking? Could your biases be actually affecting your judgement of whether something is real or not?

Read Beyond the Headline

Headlines are designed to get your interest. What is the actual story about? Is there any real and legitimate content or is it just a headline to grab your attention?

Check the Sources

Are the sources being cited actually legitimate and support the actual story?

Is it a Joke?

If it really seems outlandish, it’s possibly a joke and designed to just pull people in. Start at the beginning and check the source and also see if anyone else is actually reporting it.

And I’ll add this one based on the FYRE documentary;

Watch Out For Influencers’ Influences

We love our influencers and celebrities and we want to believe what they tell us is true. But often what they are saying – and endorsing – they are being paid by someone to do this.

There are government advertising regulations that state should someone or a website be paid to promote or endorse a service or product, they need to make this obvious to the reader. For example #ad #paid #sponsored if shared by social media or something on their website declaring that a post is paid or sponsored.

So double check this when reading or following your favourite celebrities and influencers. It’s easy for them to miss this and in turn you may not necessarily be getting the full story.

Just ask anyone who bought a ticket to the FYRE Festival. I bet they are now thinking twice before believing everything they see online.

I think the internet is just an online version of our society.

In our lives we try to surround ourselves with people we trust, we don’t believe everything everyone tells us and if something is too good to be true chances are it is.

We just need to live on the internet this same way.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.