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It’s Time to Stop Sharing Articles on Facebook We Haven’t Actually Read

Woman eating breakfast while looking at articles on Facebook

Did you hear about the chocolate shortage in the world? Of course you did! There were articles on Facebook! Everyone in your life, from your neighbor to your best friend to your mom to reputable news and pop culture outlets were racing to to tell you.

HAVE YOU HEARD?

Once you heard, did you tell someone else, maybe with your own thoughts of amused panic and urgency? Before you shared the information, did you pause to check the facts?

What about the story about the hugely popular international coffee chain? Or the story about the famous football star? We’ve all heard about the restaurant that discovered smartphone use was to blame for their poor service reviews. How about that story about the mom in Virginia who was told she couldn’t send her kid to school with a packed lunch? I mean THAT was horrible.

I have so many friends up in arms about so many things. The real tragedy is that not one of these stories is 100 percent true.

Having gut reactions to headlines isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but before you share with your friend list, don’t you want to read beyond the bold print? Gawker once asked,“The real question isn’t why we don’t read anymore, it’s why we comment — passionately and with the utmost confidence — after reading only a headline.”

Last April NPR wrote a story called, “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” Instantly the post took off on social media and people began commenting how YES THEY DO READ, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

What they failed to do, however, was actually click on the link to the article. If they had, they would have discovered it was an April Fool’s joke. NPR correctly assessed, “We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read.”

So why are we sharing these stories? Why are we creating a modern day telephone game of possibly incorrect information? We teach our kids to get all the facts first, but are we in so much of a hurry in our digital age that this is a corner we are OK with cutting?

Here’s why I think we’re doing this:

Proves a Point

Sometimes we share without reading because a headline quickly confirms or even proves a point we have been trying to make. A link to an article becomes a “SO THERE!” Or, as Anne Parris claims, it’s the “See! Science says I’m right!” That being said, Parris says if she ever found out something she shared wasn’t accurate she would clarify. “Deleting is a punk move.”

Saves Time

The impulse to share is something we all have. We all want to have information and then relay the information. Brandi Riley says she shares content online  partly to educate and “also to share my feelings about things I may not have the words, or the time to say.”

Creates Connection

When we share content, what we are doing is creating an environment for deeper connection. Vikki Reich believes when we post a link, “it’s the way we create shared experiences in a virtual space, and shared experiences are the building blocks for relationships.”

Educates

Riley certainly feels like we are responsible for the links we chose to share. One of her goals online is to educate others. She says she is usually pretty good when it comes to checking sources because sometimes she doesn’t read the entire story before she shares. When it comes to hot button issues, she won’t share it unless it is “from a really reputable source.” Mandy Younce, a friend of mine from high school, also shares to educate. She wants to “help pull people’s heads out of the all-too-prevalent complacency and get these articles to people I know are like minded.”

Sadly, many of the viral stories we see shared online have been completely fabricated. Ravi Somaiya and Leslie Kaufman elaborate in the NY Times, “Truth has never been an essential ingredient of viral content on the Internet.” Somaiya and Kaufman also point out that in many cases, if it comes to light that a story was fabricated or inaccurate news outlets seem to shrug it off. Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post, agrees. “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”

So what do you do when something comes across your stream or feed and you want to share because, seems legit? Take a minute and simply vet the story. There are many sites who specialize in helping us verify information. Some of my go-tos are: Snopes, Truth or Fiction, and Fact Check.

Be the person to help end the modern telephone game of a bogus story.

(Obviously, feel free to share this on Facebook.)

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