Before you share something online (on social media or elsewhere) you should think about what you are sharing. Asking yourself the question “does this make sense?” will prevent you from sharing things that are false and may save you some embarrassment in the future. Recognizing how your inherent biases may make you more susceptible to being hoaxed will help too.
Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience. Someone showed me this YouTube video a while back and I thought it was hilarious. In my foolishness, I shared it. However, while the video is real the way it is presented is not. Obama was not being snubbed. He was introducing someone to a group of people. Yes, I got hoaxed. No, that is not the only time I have been hoaxed. It is far from it, and far from the only time I really should have known better. I will probably get hoaxed again and will allow myself to be hoaxed because of my own foolishness and complete lack of discernment.
If I had used even the tiniest, un-measurable amount of discernment my nonsense detector would have been blaring when I saw that video. Would a group of people really disrespect and snub the President of these United States? Sure, one person may do that, but would a whole line of people do that? No. Even if people do not like the individual, they will not disrespect the office of the President like that. It was stupid for me to be taken in by this. I should have known better, and I should have known better from the second I saw the video. I did not think about it. Worse yet, I allowed my own anti-Obama bias to reinforce my foolishness. I cannot stand Obama, so obviously this is real, right? Wrong!
This brings me to a fabricated tweet where Tim Kaine said he and his wife are in an “open marriage.” Now, do what I did not do with the “snubbed” video, and think about this for a minute. If a sitting U.S. Senator and the former governor of Virginia were to Tweet this via his official account this would be a huge story. It would be all over every cable news channel, every mainstream news website, the lead above-the-fold headline on every newspaper and the lead story on the nightly news. If the first place you’re hearing about this is some anonymous Facebook page, and the source is a very obscure website, how likely is it that this is legitimate?
Here’s a hint: It is probably a hoax. And what makes this particular hoax so very bad is while it does reflect badly on Tim Kaine, it is much more harmful to his wife. It is one thing to attack a politician or to attack that politician’s high-profile supporters. It is another thing entirely to spread a smear about a politician’s family. While everyone gets hoaxed from time to time, this is an area where extra caution is required and extra humility is needed when you are discovered to be wrong.
Yet some people are so slavishly devoted to Donald Trump that they are predisposed to believe nearly any claim advanced by his surrogates, especially negative claims about Hillary Clinton or Tim Kaine. I did a quick search on Facebook and a lot of people have shared this article – and that is just the public posts I can see from people who are not my friends. I can imagine how many times that article has been shared by people who are not my friends and are sharing it only with their friends. Things can spread quickly when all you have to do to blast it to three hundred people is click one button.
You do not even need to fact-check every post before you share it. If you see an outlandish claim, think about it and use some of the discernment that we all have. If the claim is really outlandish, fact-check it before you share it. If you are called out on it, be humble and admit you made a mistake – something that I recognize is very difficult to do. And no, let’s not blame Facebook for this. Before Facebook, this stuff would get spread around via e-mail or newsgroups. (Remember those?) E-mail hoaxes are what created Snopes. If Facebook never existed, this would spread via Google Plus, MySpace or Yahoo 360. The root of the problem is the people sharing, not the platform used to share fake stories.