Make It Your New Year’s Resolution Not to Share Misinformation

Follow these easy steps!

Joe Biden

Charles Krupa/AP

Unless you were spending your last precious hours of holiday vacation on social media, you probably missed it. Lucky you. On Wednesday evening, a Twitter user named @mooncult posted a short clip of Joe Biden speaking at a town hall event in New Hampshire:

The key quote there seemed to be this: “Our culture: It’s not imported from some African nation or some Asian nation.” Taken in isolation, and without the least bit of charity, you could imagine those words coming out of the mouth of someone like Steve King. But they were not spoken in isolation, and Joe Biden is not Steve King. Biden was not, as @mooncult claimed, “proclaim[ing] the ‘European’ identity of America.” Rather, Biden’s comments came at the end of a long story about his work fighting violence against women. As CNN’s Daniel Dale explained, Biden believed part of the problem could be traced to the English legal traditions on which the American legal system was largely built, which Biden argued created a culture of acceptance for such behavior.

Still, the clip has now been viewed 1.3 million times and has picked up thousands of likes and retweets from Biden critics, including some with media platforms. I don’t want to pick on them, though, because stuff like this happens all the time, and the particular allegiances of the duped changes depending on the story. It’s only January 2—if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of the presidential campaign, we’re screwed.

Look, there are a lot of dumb people out there, and there’s a lot of misinformation, some of which is truly more overzealous than malicious in nature. But the thing is, lots of smart people also fall for stuff like this! Fortunately, there’s a better way. You, smart reader, can be part of the solution. Why not make it a resolution for the new year? Trust me, if you follow these simple steps, it’ll be a lot easier than whatever else is on your list. 

Ask yourself:

  1. Why am I first learning about this incredible thing several days later from someone with a weird joke in their handle and like 45 followers?
  2. Is anyone else reporting this?
  3. Is this account purporting to be a real person or news organization actually a real person or news organization? Could it be a troll?
  4. Why does this clip begin mid-question, or mid-answer, and where’s the rest of it? (In the case of the Biden clip, here it is.)
  5. Did this actually just happen, or am I looking at an old story? (It’s fine to share old news—the past isn’t past, etc.—but you should know that you’re sharing old news when you do, and you should make that clear to your followers.)
  6. Is there a much simpler explanation for all of this?
  7. Would it kill me to wait a little while for someone else to ask these questions for me? (This is actually my favorite, because it requires you to do literally nothing, except not tweet quite so much, which is a noble goal in its own right.)

But sometimes, it can’t be helped. You shared something wrong or misleading. Oops! So what should you do now?

  1. Delete the thing. Pretty simple. But if you have lots of followers yourself, you might want go a step further and explain why it was wrong. Maybe you’ll spare someone else from having to do the same.
  2. Don’t make it worse. A common response to sharing something that is actually not real, or not what it appears, is to say something like, “But it says a lot that I thought it was real.” Yes, it does say a lot—it says a lot about your preconceptions! There’s no need to turn a mixup into an affirmation.
  3. Stop getting your news from people who share fake news. Everyone makes mistakes, but some people make them so often that it should be a red flag. You can unfollow them or, if that seems too rude, mute them. Or you can do nothing of the sort, but just think to yourself “hmmm” when you see something sensational from them.

These are just tips. Everyone has their own processes. But it’s going to be a long year, and it’ll be a lot saner and healthier if we don’t make it any dumber than it inevitably will be.

FACT:

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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