Elder Tech: Simple Steps for Social Media Literacy

Posted by Heather Benson on

Social media and especially Facebook have become attractive sites in which suspect news organizations, scam artists and hackers utilize people’s propensity to share links and photos with each other as a means to divert clicks, attention and sometimes dollars to nefarious schemes.  With billions of new posts being made each day, how do you know which is real and which is fake?   Being social media literate is now more important than ever for protecting yourself, your contacts and even your country.  We offer a few tips on how to discern the good from the bad.

Slow Down and Think Before You Click/Comment/Share.  

It sounds easy but this is one of the hardest things to do on sites that are structured to encourage mindless clicking on whatever strikes your fancy.  However, the simple act of slowing down and taking the time to do some critical thinking is one of the most important ways we can protect ourselves from malicious actors on social media.  

Before you click, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

1. Is this a sponsored post?

There are two types of posts on social sites—those that appear in your timeline “organically” (because you have already followed a page or a friend has shared from a page) and those that a page has paid Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to place into your timeline.  On the those three sites, a sponsored post will have always have that notation somewhere on the post, sometimes in fine print, but it will be there.

A sponsored post is likely (but not always) going to be a leveraged piece of content—meaning it is created to drive traffic to a page or website.  Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing like when a local business is simply trying to get the word out about their existence but sometimes it is used to draw readers to content that is placed to draw clicks to a fake news source or illegitimate business. The simple act of knowing whether the post is from a page you or your friends followed or a paid piece of advertising can inform your decision whether to click or not.

2. Who made the post?

Facebook, in particular, has made big strides in having business and media pages become more transparent and taking the time to use those transparency resources will pay dividends.  

On news article links, look for the  “i” that will bring you a pop-up telling you more about the link behind that post.  If it is a legitimate news source, it will give you some background on the site, how long their website has existed and how long the link has been up.  Use that information to decide whether to keep following.

On other social shares, before you click on the link, go to the page’s site on the social account and examine what they post and what their “About” section says.  Is there a website? When was the social page formed (be suspicious of newer pages with lots of sensational content)? Where are they located?  What other types of posts appear on their page?

3. Does it feel right?

This is where fact-checking comes into play. Just because 4,529 people have shared the post and one of them was your good friend from high school does not make the post true or the source valid.    Get past the headline and dig deeper and ask the questions a good journalist would: Who/What/When/Why/How?

Head over to Google and look for secondary sources with the same information—does this same set of facts show up elsewhere?  Has the story been picked up by other mainstream media sites?  If you worry about media bias, look for the story in places you consider to be “left” AND “right”—chances are if sites from the opposite end of the political spectrum are reporting the same facts (regardless of what spin they might put into a headline), you can count on the fact itself being true.

Ask yourself if the headline and the content are playing to a particular viewpoint.  Are they there to share solid information or there to push an agenda?  Look for facts and sources cited within the article and check that information for legitimacy.  If it feels off, it probably is.

If it feels sketchy and sensationalized and the site appears to perpetuate much of the same, it’s probably best to walk away.  It takes effort to be a good consumer of media on social sites but the effort is well-rewarded by making not only yourself a better-informed person but protecting the family and friends that follow you from malicious actors as well.


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