Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolve to Promote Truth

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com
OK educators. It's time to put the skills you have to work with ALL of the people in your lives, not just the ones you call your students. This may also include yourselves.

It's time to promote self-restraint. And critical thinking. And research skills.

It's time to be OK with gently correcting even the adults in your life.

Why this call to action? Because I firmly believe that until we can promote the idea that ALL of us, regardless of age, are responsible for conducting ourselves wisely online, convincing our young people to be responsible digital citizens will be an uphill, frustrating, and in the long run a losing battle.

An area where I believe we can easily make an impact is in the area of promoting the truth. Stated another way, let's resolve to

  • Not pass along information without doing some quick fact checking. 
    • If you don't have time to fact check, just don't pass the info along.
  • Let people know when they are sharing incorrect information and ask them to delete and post a correction.
  • In the process, teach others how to do their own quick fact checking.

An Example of How to Promote Truth

Following through on a resolution to promote truth is not all that difficult. Here is a scenario which played out for me earlier this fall:
  • A friend posted an address on Facebook where people could send cards to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C.
  • Thinking it was a good idea, but wanting to be sure it would truly work, I went to my favorite rumor checking website, snopes.com, and searched for Walter Reed cards for soldiers and quickly found that the address shared by my friend would not work.
  • I then posted a comment on my friend's Facebook post, sharing that the information was inaccurate and that Snopes is a good place to check on these types of things before sharing. Then, I gently suggested she might want to take it down and let the person who shared it with her know as well. (She did take it down!)
That's how easy it was. Instead of clicking Share without thought, I took about five extra minutes to confirm that what was being said was true. Hopefully, anyone else who saw this play out will  hesitate the next time they are about to share information and take a moment to check.

Develop Your Suspicion Muscle

One thing we all need to do is become more suspicious of the things we read online, especially the ones that are "feel good" (like sending Christmas cards to soldiers) or "cries for help" (like missing children alerts). Often these tales started out true. Many missing children posts began as truth. A lost stuffed animal's journey began as truth, but I continue to see the picture of the "missing" lion popping up on Facebook, even though the story has already had its happy ending.

Here are some of the types of posts that almost immediately make me pause and verify before sharing:
  • Reports of the death of anyone famous
  • Requests to help find missing people
  • Photographs circulating during and after disasters (Just look at all the pics supposedly related to Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. Anyone ever heard of Photoshop?)
  • Any report of a scandal
  • Stories/photographs that support a specific political point of view. (Even the views I agree with. Especially those! Why would I want to damage a cause I believe in by spreading falsehoods?)
It is hard to categorize everything that gives me pause, which nowadays is almost anything. But whenever I experience a mental "Hmmm..." alert after seeing something online, especially when social media is the first place I see it, I
  • Head to Google where I specifically look for news references if it is a current event topic. And I try to find verification on two or more sites.
  • And/Or I go to snopes.com if it seems to be something that might have been around for a while.
Whether I verify the information or not, if I choose to correct or reshare, I always include a link to a reliable source with the information. Again, hoping to model appropriate sharing for my online connections.

I Hate to Say it, but We Need to Trust Less

In the digital age, it is too easy to spread inaccurate information. Many of us who remember getting information pre-Internet have not made the mental transition from the days of print media and the days when news came to us only through networks on television. We trusted that what we read and heard from journalists had been verified. Frankly, many people, regardless of their age, are just gullible, assuming if it's online, it's true.

Today, anyone is capable of being a "journalist," of sharing the latest "news." People with zero journalistic training from your high school friend on Facebook to a social media specialist hired by a news or pseudo-news organization. Some of those specialists prioritize getting visits to their site and shares of their information far above sharing accurately. So it benefits us and those in our circles if we treat the information we encounter with healthy suspicion, and verify before we share.

Who's With Me?

As I write this, one year is ending and another is beginning. But no matter when you are reading it, I hope you will join me in a resolution to promote truth

I would love it if you would share in the comments below your thoughts on this topic, ways you verify information which finds you online, or information you shared a correction on because you found it to be false. It will be encouraging to know we have partners in the truth crusade! :-)

All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.