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FAQ: How to avoid sharing fraudulent news stories on social media

A still from the opening credits of the hit Fox show
A still from the opening credits of the hit Fox show "The X-Files."

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The Internet has made it way too easy for people to spread misinformation these days.

Even mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post have been caught reporting on fake news and viral video hoaxes. With all the content we have to wade through everyday via social media, what can the average person do to avoid spreading fraudulent news?
In recent articles for and Esquire, freelance writer Luke O'Neil talks about the preponderance of  fake news designed just to get clicks, and he lays out some simple tips for news consumers to avoid these pitfalls. 

WHO and WHERE? Look for the source of the story. Where did it originate?

"It takes about 60 seconds, if that, before you hit the share button just to look at who's information you're about to share. This wouldn't even take 60 seconds, just look at the name of the website. If you go, 'Oh, that sounds like something I've never heard of,' then you start looking a little bit deeper.

"I'm not saying you have to chase down to the source of every story you see, but just at least look at who it is who's sharing it. I say in the Vice piece, you wouldn't hear a story from a ranting, raving guy on the subway and be like, 'oh, that sounds legit," then go home and tell your friends. That seems like a really minor thing that people can do. Just look at who it is that's telling you this story."

WHAT? Consider the subject/topic of the story:

"This one's a little more difficult in that it's somewhat objective. Funny, perfectly little packaged things don't happen all the time and we have a lot of space to fill online so people are coming up with these funny packaged things in order to fill that space. So just look at the story...the example I use is the one about Bill Murray stopping a bank robbery in Japan. I would really love it if that was true, but that's the type of thing that's too good to be true. Just think about it and be like, 'wait a minute, this sounds like the type of thing somebody would make up because they want me to think it's true." More often than not, if it's too perfect, it's not going to be valid."

WHEN? Remember that things online last forever:

"This is one that came up recently. There were tens of thousands of people sharing this video that Tracy Morgan posted on his Facebook wall, and it was him laying in bed and he was really tired looking and sort of sad. Everyone was sharing it as if it was his first video posted after his big accident. It turns out it was from months earlier, it was just a random video that he posted getting up out of bed one day. All you really had to go was click on the video and look at the date. All videos, all blog posts, everything, the date is there. If its from months before the story we're talking about even happened, that's a pretty easy way to eliminate it."

WHY? Consider the source's motivation for posting the story:

"I got into this a little bit with the stories about people randomly breaking up with their girlfriends and things like that. Think about why a national news site would share that. It's not because it's news, it's not because its even very interesting, it's not even really that funny or entertaining. The only reason you would share a story like that is because you think it's tailor made to be shared. I like stupid stuff as much as the next guy, but I just don't think we need to see it from every single site."