Fake news

avoid being sucked in by fake newsA couple weeks ago one of my Facebook friends posted a news bulletin announcing the death of an actor. I had seen the actor that very morning on live television and I doubted the post was real. A few of the person’s contacts doubted it as well. We all responded to the post saying we thought it was fake. She took it down immediately, but I’m sure many people posted the same story on their pages.

The 24 hour news cycle has its downfalls and fake news is the biggest among them. Social media users are confused about how to tell what is real and what is not. It is important to know that what you are sharing is real. We need to know the truth now more than ever.

There are a few ways anyone can verify if something is real or not.

At Social Squids, we love social media. When I see a rumor reported by someone on Facebook, I rarely take it at face value. Too many people, my own friends included, are taken in by fake stories and claims. If I see that someone has died or news of a plane crash or someone got a DUI, I immediately go to the two big social media sources for news – Facebook and Twitter. Twitter seems to scoop everyone on news so I generally start there. Is the news item trending?

I love Twitter, but sometimes they get it wrong too. After I check Twitter I go to trending topics on Facebook. Next I check the news media sites. If everyone is running the same story, I feel like it’s probably true.

If you can’t find a big story on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC or Fox, it’s probably fake. Breaking news stories might not be online right away. But for the most part, the major networks know about breaking news almost immediately.

Try to find the original link or source of the story. Is it a reputable site? If you’ve never heard of it, that’s a red flag. The story might be a fake.

Is the news a parody or satire? Sometimes parts of stories like ones on The Onion are taken out of context and reposted as news. NewsMutiny and the Borowitz Report are also popular parody sites.

Clickbait is news that is a question or statement is so titillating that you feel compelled to click on it. You then fall down the rabbit hole and end up reading a story that never answers the question you originally found intriguing. It’s a form of fake news, a teaser headline with no actual story to back it up.

Other fake news might have a headline that doesn’t match the image or video. It may claim that one person was arrested, but the video is actually of different person getting arrested. It can also show a current story with images that are from a long time ago and obviously the two don’t match. These stories are both misleading and untrue.

Foreign URLs are another tip off to fake news. If it’s something happening in this country, but you can’t find the story on the major news networks, check out the URL of the article.

Be responsible and question everything you read. Verify news with multiple sources before you believe it. Try your best not to spread rumors that have no basis in truth. In the world we live in today, you have to be a skeptic.

Freedom of speech

Charlie hebdo gives us pauseIn the wake of the events of the past few weeks, many people throughout the world are realizing just how precious the right to freedom of speech is. As Americans, we sometimes take this right for granted. Between the terror events in France and the Sony movie The Interview, we are now seeing how some other people view our freedom.

In my business, I have the opportunity to write about a wide range of topics. The most controversial I have gotten in my work has been organizing your clothes closet or picking a team that might win tomorrow’s game. But I know I have the right to write about whatever topic I chose. This is not true for some people.

As a college intern, I worked at a Baltimore television station during the American hostage crisis in 1979 that took place in Iran. It was an exciting yet scary time to be in the news business. The Associated Press and United Press International alarms were ringing in what we called “the wire room” all evening, every evening with news updates and bulletins. Every time the alarm went off, my heart jumped.

Back then, we didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle, social media or cell phones. Okay, maybe there were cell phones, but they were about the size of a shoe box and few people owned them. At the TV station where I worked, they didn’t even have computers. We typed on typewriters with large keys so the stories could be put directly into the teleprompter for the anchorman.

As a young adult, it was the first time I was exposed to terrorism. I also learned a lot about patriotism and freedom during my internship. It has been a long road from that job to creating Social Squids, but freedom of speech has been there all along.

With the technology of today, people use freedom of speech and social media to instantly send images and words to the world. With this freedom people have gotten themselves into all kinds of trouble from “sexting” to sending out things by accident. Of course, many also use it for sending funny, informational, inspirational or newsworthy messages.

As citizens of the world and especially as writers, we should remember how precious this freedom is. Some people have paid the ultimate price. We should take advantage of our freedom of speech and use it wisely.

Je suis Charlie.

Too bad social media can’t change the weather

While the weather can change social media, it’s too bad it can’t be the other way around. Of course, Hurricane Sandy is trending and so is FEMA while the wind whips around my house and knocks branches off the trees. Just as I typed this, a big gust of wind hit and my dog went flying upstairs to hide.

In Baltimore, we’re bracing for heavy-duty winds from now until about 2 a.m. I can only hope my power holds out through the worst of it. My neighborhood has above ground lines so we lose power quite often during bad storms.

Social media is obviously abuzz over this storm. Not only are people posting about power outages, weather updates, but crazy photos of Godzilla walking in New York Harbor and the State of Liberty with a ominous looking, swirling cloud have been Photoshopped. Don’t believe everything you see, people!

Some of us, who are considered technically savvy people, look at every photo with a little bit of skepticism. We’ve manipulated photos enough to look the way we want them that we are naturally looking for shadows that don’t all go in the same direction or other signs of photo altering.

Knowing that people are home from work, and surfing cyberspace to wait out the storm, gives some of us the opportunity to reach people who don’t always see what we post. And, it’s nice to know that I can look on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Google+ and see that my friends are “hunkered down” as Baltimore’s mayor told us to do. I’m sure all of social media is working with higher than normal traffic.

I can at least see that my friends and family members are okay, when they are posting status updates and photos or forwarding someone else’s photos. Surfing and reading, that’s really a relaxing thing to do while you are “hunkering down.”

Cross your fingers, offer a good thought and let’s keep spirits up during Mother Nature’s latest attack on us. She seems really pissed today.

Breaking news and social media

Today in Baltimore, it was the first day of school. Unfortunately, at Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County, there was also a shooting today. It’s a shame, especially for kids having to remember this happening on their first day of high school. It was the new Baltimore County School Superintendent, Dallas Dance’s first day too. It was not a good one. Social media took on a large role as the events, rumors and facts unfolded.

Right after the shooting occurred, the school was not able to send any official message to the parents. They needed to fully assess the situation first. Kids in some classes were not allowed to have cell phones turned on, but others did have access to their cell phones. They immediately started texting their parents, letting them know they were okay. Later, as the school had an official statement about what had happened, parents were sent phone and text messages.

Twitter was abuzz with activity about the shooting. Lots of preliminary information and even more speculation and gossip was being generated. Loads of tweets with “Perry Hall shooter” were flowing freely through cyberspace before police even had the school secured. Baltimore County’s Emergency information Twitter page, @BACOemergency, was sending messages including some to the press. The was another rumor that the shooter had tweeted “SO SICK. RIP victims. R-T FOR RESPECT.” People also speculated that he was a victim of bullying.

The shooter is in custody. One student is in critical condition at Shock Trauma. A guidance counselor grabbed the shooter after the first shot and wrestled the shotgun away from him as a second shot went into the ceiling. More teachers joined in and the shooter was forcibly held until police arrived a few minutes later. That takes real guts! Kudos to those brave souls.

There is a rumor that the shooter posted “First day of school, last day alive.” on his Facebook page. The is a Baltimore County Breaking News Facebook page staffed by volunteers that worked diligently all day to keep people updated on events as they were happening.

Social media was all over this event. I’m sure at least one student video or photo exists of this event. The police probably confiscated and/or examined as many phones as they could find in the cafeteria, where the shooting occurred.

Good news or bad, Twitter, Facebook, texting and other social media gets news out to people much faster than the old-fashioned “telephone tree” when people called each other on the phone. While I can feel for the families involved in this tragic and frightening event, I can’t help but appreciate how social media was all over this. As the news becomes an online media event and people become amateur reporters with their smart phones, the news business has never been as instantaneous as it is today. The way we process breaking news has been forever changed, I think it is a change for the better.