Written by Adeola kayode - Nigeria
With the popularity of blogs, social media and camera phones, almost everybody is now a citizen journalist. This is putting much pressure on the society who must separate facts from rumours.
Social media are a powerful tool, and the people who know how to use them are getting results. They are a great means to connect with others and to share information on things that are important to us.
However, they also come with their pitfalls and challenges. An important trend we need to guard against is the way many people spread false, obsolete and malicious information online.
We have all experienced it: breaking news of someone's car being stolen, a picture of events that happened years ago but posted like a current issue and so on.
At the 2014 World Economic Forum's Network of Global Agenda Council, members voted the rapid spread of online misinformation as one of the top 10 threats facing the world.
The viral spread and rapid response false online information usually generates has become a global cause of concern. Consider that two of the major images people created and spread during the start of #Bringbackourgirls campaign were traced to a completely unrelated event in Africa.
Also consider the recent false story which claimed that former President Goodluck Jonathan's Chief Security Officer, Gordon Obuah, was dead.
In this age of website journalists, it is easy for people with malicious intentions to set up website for the purpose of spreading false information.
We hear of breaking news today but only to find out that some copy-and-paste bloggers are the source of the information. As a result, we need to think before we share false information so that we do not become a conduit pipe for falsehood.
In fact, whatever you share online is a reflection of your intelligence and it affects your credibility. This is why I want to share with you some simple fact-checking tips:
Go beyond the headlines
The challenge is that many people do not read the stories but stop at the headlines. Look at the context. Get the whole story. If you had bothered to cross-check before shocking your colleagues, you could have stopped some major problems caused by falsehood. If you had read headlines about the Niger Delta question posed to the President during his recent visit to the United States, you would been very angry with him. But the video and the complete story said something else. A headline has its purpose; it not a summary of the content of the story. In many cases, it is crafted to attract attention to the story.
Who is saying it?
As someone said, "If using the phone keypads cannot be taken as a typing skill during interviews, you also cannot assume that everyone sharing information online is a credible source."
According to Eric Scherer, a director of future media, France Television, who spoke at an International Journalism Festival in Perugia in May, "The next big thing is not attention; the next big thing is trust."
If an unknown or a new website is breaking news that established mediado not, you need to question the credibility of the information.
There are some pictures and stories that are being circulated on social media because most people do not bother to cross-check their sources before re-posting.
The fact that most hackers and phishing experts use false and intriguing headlines to harvest passwords should raise the concern of Internet users.
Verify against a creditable source
One simple test to check if the news you heard is true is to check whether other credible sources are also reporting it.
Who else is saying it? A simple Google search will help you to see other websites that are using the stories.
Traditional newspapers, in particular, have established themselves as trusted brands. They have the capacity to verify information before publishing it. Use them to cross-check your information.
Internet verification tools
When it comes to verifying content, there are tools that can help you to verify information.
You can use apps such as Mentionmapp and Radian 6 to locate the source of a trending tweet. Websites likeTineye will help you to locate the source of an image; Google can also help you to locate the originating source and date of an article or mage.
Social media are an amplifier. The good thing is that it gets people talking about the issue. Before your click to share, read first.
Before you share information, confirm it. Before you report a terrible incident, inform the police, not just your network. Instead of trying to be the first to spread and comment on breaking news, try to be the first to confirm it.