Linnéa Jonjons and Åsa Larsson co-founded Metro’s Viralgranskaren viral checker and together have published the book “Viralgranskarens handbok”. (“The Viral Checker’s Handbook”), a handbook on how to avoid being tricked online with a lot of tips to help journalists.
Here are some tips from the book for fact-checking viral content:
- Identify WHAT you are looking at. Is it a blog, an article, a forum post, or something else?
- WHO is the poster? In most cases it is clear who the poster is, but there are also posters who as good as anonymous. It’s also easy to create made-up profiles, so even if it is clear who the poster is, it doesn’t have to be genuine.
- WHEN? How up-to-date is the post? Re-use is common on the Internet, and even if the original publication is wholly accurate, a lot might have happened since then.
- WHAT does the text say? To find out, you need to read the whole text – not just the headline and preamble that are designed to attract readers.
- SEARCH!Do searches to check what the text says.
- If the Swedish is poor, it may be a sign that the text has been translated from another language. You can test this by doing your own translation into English and then searching in English.
- Verify what is being said. This is s a question of fact-checking the course of events. Is there any evidence of research, eyewitnesses, reviews, reports, etc.? How plausible is the reasoning?
- Get to know your sources. Find out as much as you can about the websites and social media accounts you want to use to share material.
- Get help from experts.
- Check out the website if it’s new to you. Who’s behind it? What does the rest of the material look like? Is the poster on social media and what impression do you get from those sources? What is written in the comments fields? You can easily check who owns the domain if it is Swedish by using the Swedish Internet Foundation’s website, iis.se.
- Fake celebrity profiles. Many celebrities have fallen victim to this phenomenon and it’s difficult to get to grips with, as well as difficult to tell the difference between a “genuine” celebrity account and a made-up one. Verification marking is one option. Check if there is anything written about the person in question and fake accounts, and review the account – does it seem plausible that this is a genuine account?
- Conspiracy theories. A common theme among conspiracy theories is that there is an active and conscious organisation behind an event involving thousands of people, and that any counter-arguments are ignored.
- Crises, disasters and acts of terrorism. The spread of numerous rumours social media is common during such events. If you spread false information you risk smearing innocent people, creating panic and exposing people to immediate danger. Never share videos or images of dead or injured people – often it is old material that has been revived, and if it isn’t then you risk relatives finding out about a family member’s death via social media.
- There are often calls on social media to share alerts, such as a warning about a “mysterious” car that has been driving around in a residential area. Here too, you need to be careful and to use source criticism before sharing. Imagine if you were helping to identify someone as a criminal on completely erroneous grounds? The same applies to person searches. Someone being looked for may be living with a hidden identity in order to be protected from something.