First, is it true, second, is it helpful, and third, what effect is it having on your friends?
As you scroll through your news feed you see lots of stories, memes, cute ideas and more. They are designed to grab your attention and get you to share them. Then your friends share, and their friends share, and before you know it you have hundreds, if not thousands of people seeing the same post.
This can be beneficial when something important needs to be shared. But what if you clicked “share” and then found out that the story was a hoax or isn’t relevant any longer? In your effort to pass along seemingly important information you may be contributing to misinformation. What if your wall is now avoided because you are constantly sharing post like this, and rarely sharing things relevant about you?
In an age of information, we have the parallel disadvantage of misinformation. Why? Partly because information is shared so quickly it is often shared before validating. Let’s look at some common situations and see how this happens, as well as some steps to avoid sharing misinformation.
Scenario One: You see the photo of a sweet young girl with the pleading words, "Everyone please share, my daughter is missing!"
If the little girl is missing, you are doing a favor to pass it along. But if she is no longer missing (or perhaps never was) you are contributing to the spread of false information and wasting people's time. So, it’s worthwhile for you to validate this story before you share.
Here’s how to check the story: Click on the original post and check the date. If it’s recent, then it may be more likely to still be true. But if it’s from 2 years ago, maybe the girl was found. Next, scroll through the comments to see if there are any comments indicating that the situation has been resolved, e.g. “We found this missing girl!” If you can’t find an update, check the wall of the one who originally posted the story as they may have posted an update there. Now you know if the story is still relevant. If the girl was found, don’t share the story. No one needs to feel concerned for her whereabouts anymore or feel compelled to share the story too.
Scenario Two: “Super-Mart is giving $100 to everyone who shares this post!”
Consider this: First, if it’s too good to be true, then it’s probably not true. You can almost always assume the ones you see like this are false. Usually things like this are rumors that were started, often months ago, and are still circulating because who wouldn’t want to share if you were really going to get $100? If this isn’t true, passing it along is sharing misinformation, and is definitely not helpful. Before sharing this dubious offer, check the company’s actual Facebook profile, as well as their official website for any potential offers. If you find a great deal, then share away!
Scenario Three: “Hi, I’m John Smith, XYZ company did $2,000 in damage to my property and isn’t fixing it!”
Let’s examine Scenario Three: The guy who is complaining that XYZ company owes him $2,000 probably doesn't need over 500,000 shares. The attention the post is getting may far outweigh the need. First, go back and validate the story (if possible); you may discover that XYZ company has made things right, or even gone the extra mile to fix the situation. Before sharing the outrage, ask yourself again; is it true, is it helpful? If XYZ company no longer owes the guy money or repaired the damage, then it’s not a true reflection on their company values. Sharing this story makes them look bad months after the situation is resolved. It isn’t helpful and you may further damage a good company’s reputation. If they did make things right, then perhaps you can share that instead. Far too often people complain about things, and rarely do they share how good something was.
The negative effects of sharing misinformation:
At the end of the day, keep in mind that people are typically friends on social media to keep in touch with YOU. They don't go to your wall to see the latest gossip. In fact, if you share to much without validating the stories, you will end up compromising your own credibility with your friends. Your friends may even discreetly use a feature that Facebook has to keep your posts out of their newsfeed. You will still be friends, but they may be happier not seeing your posts. Take the time to update your friends about YOU. This is far more important to most of them than all those things you share from other pages. In an age where information is shared too easily, and friendships are shallow because of social media being a poor substitute for real life, take time to share things that will actually connect you to your friends and keep your friendship strong. Brag about the grandkids, show off your garden, or compliment someone on a job well done. These true stories (and kindness) go a long way in encouraging those around you.