Tips to check factuality on social media posts

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Jonathan Groves is an associate professor and communication chair at Drury University.  Groves says social media has always been a part of his career.

“I was an early adapter of Twitter and Facebook and looking at those kinds of things,” Groves said. “The biggest change I would say we’ve seen in the last 15 years is the sort of leveling of the playing field. Individuals can disrupt the landscape, make a difference, and have their voice heard.”

He says a lot of positive change has come from this. 

“Historically marginalized voices that wouldn’t get heard had nowhere to go,” Groves said. “They would find places like ethnic media. Nowadays, you don’t need that. Nowadays, you have these platforms that you get out there.”

A variety of outlets are available. From newspapers, television, radio to now, social media, Groves says sometimes it’s difficult making sense of all of it.

“I think what happens now is you get people who are looking at it and what breaks through is the stuff that activates your emotions,” Groves said. “You watch a video that’s traumatic or horrifying, and it clicks something in you, and activates you to find out more information about that topic and raises the awareness about it.”

Raising awareness through one click of a button. Whether it be a Facebook share, Twitter retweet, or repost on your Instagram story. Groves says the problem is some of those shares aren’t factual.

“If you remember President Trump when he held up the Bible when he did his march, there was a photo online of him and Hitler,” Groves said. “Hitler was holding up a Bible. That made the rounds on social media. It was a fabricated image. People are angry, so what they do is share something without thinking about it or verifying it.”

He says these shares can negatively impact our culture. The more inaccurate posts, the more controversial point of view are portrayed. Groves mentions ‘COVID-19 is a hoax,’ and ‘there is no pandemic’ as an example.

“There is stuff out there where you can find that point of view,” Groves said. “I can probably pretty easily find some Facebook groups that also support that point of view. These fringe views that normally had no oxygen to live now suddenly have spaces on these platforms where people can congregate and share this misinformation.”

Groves actively encourages his students and peers to adopt a few strategies before sharing something online. One tip is not sharing at the moment.

“It’s like the advice we get when we write an angry email,” Groves said. “The advice always says ‘don’t hit send. Let it sit for a few hours if you can, and then see if you still feel the same way.’ That same rule should apply to social media.”

Instead of hitting the share button, Groves recommends doing some homework. For example, when watching a video, ask yourself about where that video came from. Who posted it first? Where did it come from?

“If you can’t [answer those questions] you probably shouldn’t share that content. Because you don’t know where that came from.”

Groves says he would be more inclined to trust what’s in a post after listening to a local journalist. Ad Fontes Media has a media bias chart comparing news sources on its reliability. The Associated Press and National Public Radio are among the more trustworthy stations.

Groves adds that he wouldn’t trust someone who is using a post as part of their political campaign.

“We cannot rely on the platforms, we cannot rely on everything that’s being posted on the platforms,” Groves said. “If there’s something you care about, you have an obligation to investigate those and make sure that you are sharing nothing but truthful or verified content.”

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