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Workshop: Identifying disinformation on social media: Tips for civic sharing

Civic sharing on social media

Social media contributes significantly to many modern people's understanding of the world and current events,  yet misinformation, disinformation, and facts taken out of context proliferate on many social media platforms. How can you fight back without entirely disengaging from social media? Engage in mindful civic sharing, the act of thinking critically about the accuracy of and emotional responses provoked by content you find on social media before you share it. The tips below will help you engage critically with information. Even an act as simple as actually taking the time to read an entire article instead of posting it based solely on a headline can help improve the quality of information in your social circles. 

Mindful civic sharing: 

  • Verify before sharing
  • Include context in your posts that will help your readers verify your content

5 minute techniques

Identify the author, poster, or video creator

  • Does the account posting the information have a verified (blue check account)? (Hint: Know what a blue check means on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok - typically the identity of the poster has been verified, but individual content has not been fact-checked.)
  • What is the poster's expertise on the topic of the post? Are they local to the event they're posting about? A journalist? A scholar? An activist? Someone you know personally? 

Verify news articles

Verify primary accounts of events (e.g. a recording or quote from a first hand observer)

  • Look at the post's date, time, and location. Does it match the content of the post? 
  • Does the post include photo or video evidence? Does the photo or video evidence have any information about provenance? 
  • Can you find any news reporting on the event, or corroborating posts from other users? 

Ask why the post was made

  • What emotions did it evoke in you?
  • Was there a call to action? What is the action, and who benefits from it? 

15 minute techniques

Identify the author, poster, or video creator

  • Do a deep dive on the poster or content content creator. Do they have a wikipedia page, have they appeared in other news coverage? Get more detail on their expertise and possible biases. If they're reporting on a topic where languages other than English are relevant, do they speak those languages? Especially for TikTok creators posting about current events, have they recently attended any informational events about the topic?

Verify news articles

  • Look closely at the evidence used in a news article. If there are links to cited sources, read those. Did the article accurately represent those pieces, or cherry pick data or quotes? 
  • Think about the original evidence presented in the article. Is it the best evidence for the topic? Who got to speak and who was left out? What are possible biases of interview subjects? Does the article include appropriate language and geographic diversity? If the article cites video or audio evidence, what does it tell you about the provenance of the audio and video? Can you find other publications independently verifying the audio/video authenticity? 
  • Look for other articles reporting on the same topic. If the articles come to different conclusions, ask why? Does one journalist have access to evidence/resources that others do not? 

Verify primary accounts

  • Do a deep dive on the date, time, and location of the post - does it make sense that the poster is currently where they say they are? What language is the post in, and does that language match the topic? 
  • If a post contains images, save the image, and a try a reverse google image search. Is the image ever used in a different context than the one the poster is claiming it belongs to? Can you trace the image to its source? 
  • Conduct research on other news sources to see if their description of events aligns with what you're seeing in the post. If not, is there a clear reason why news sources would not yet have covered this? You can always check back later to see if journalists have picked up the information and verified it. 
  • Be wary of the "fog of war," or the difficulty of knowing exactly what is happening in a war zone, even when you are present in person. Account for this by comparing multiple first hand accounts of the same event when possible. 

Ask why the post was made

  • Think beyond the first account you saw sharing the post - who created it originally and what was their goal? 
  • Check for reporting and other social media posts that address this question. 
  • If you've identified a creator for an image or video, what are their biases and expertise? 

So you want to be an investigative reporter

Identify the author or poster or content creator

  • For social media accounts, do they have any of the characteristics of trolls? How old is the account? Does it have organic interactions with a social network? Is the person in the profile photo attractive? (Hint: test your troll finding skills with the Spot the Troll from the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub.) If the account itself is authentic, does it have any trolls in its network? 

Verify news articles

  • Revisit the article after some time has passed. Has any new evidence emerged that would change the conclusions of the reporting? 

Verify primary accounts

  • For videos - can you verify the source of the video? Is it in context? Has it been used before? (Hint: Amnesty International’s YouTube Dataviewer and the InVid browser extension are helpful for finding similar footage. You can also save a screen shot of a single frame and use a reverse google image search to find similar videos.) 
  • Is there evidence in the video confirming that the date matches the date claimed by the poster? (e.g. a recent newspaper held up)
  • Use google earth or other photojournalism to find images of the location in a video or image. Does the video match the location?
  • For outdoor videos and images, check the weather and location of the sun to see if they match what is depicted in the video. 
  • Does video or audio have any of the characteristics of a deep fake

Ask why the post was made

  • Revisit the post after some time has passed. What was its impact? Did it change the behavior of anyone who engaged with it? Did it achieve its goals?