Stop sharing fake things on social media – please!

Once upon a time, the only places we’d see fake stories were at supermarket checkouts. You either knew or you didn’t that what’s in those tabloids is a joke, and how you reacted was up to you.

lRelated Thankful for social media: My favorite tools, platforms
Life StyleThankful for social media: My favorite tools, platformsSee all related

Gone are the days when you sneaked a peek at this utter ridiculousness as you pretended to purchase a pack of gum. That’s been replaced by social media and its algorithms, retweets, likes and shares. The fake news that used to be confined to a small space is now spreading like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter, and the line between what’s real and what’s not has officially been blurred.

And it’s all your fault.

Sorry, but it’s true. When you share something that’s fake, it’s on you. Even if you didn’t purposely set out to mislead anyone and feel just as duped as the next person, you are responsible for what you share. You can’t hide behind it being shared by someone else in your news feed or retweeting something you saw on Twitter.

And it’s not just “news” stories. It’s those fake offers, too.

How many of you have fallen victim to the promise of two free round-trip airline tickets just for sharing a Facebook post? Know that when you do, I sigh loudly and shake my head in disapproval.

Let’s stick with this example. What could you have done to ensure it wasn’t fake before sharing it and spreading it across the Internet? Here are five simple tips.

Use simple common sense: Why would a major airline promise two free round-trip tickets likely worth more than $1,000 just for a Facebook share or retweet? The old adage if it looks too good to be true it probably is certainly applies here.

Click on the link and actually read it: Did you see that the name of the airline is spelled incorrectly? Did you notice that the text you are going to share is full of spelling and grammatical errors? Why would a reputable company that is seemingly asking for millions of shares spell its content incorrectly?

Check the company’s website or social media for any mention of the promotion: Don’t see it? Red flag! Red flag! Ahhhhhhooooooooga!! Warning! Danger!

Check a site like Snopes.com: These folks check out what’s real and what’s not so you don’t have to.

As useful as those tips are, this one may be the best of them all:

Google it! If you take 10 seconds to Google (or Bing or Yahoo or whatever) instead of 10 seconds to blindly cut and paste, you’ll save yourself all kinds of embarrassment. In so many cases, the first thing that pops up in a search is the word “fake.”

It’s important to understand what happens when you share content that’s fake: Not only did you just ensure that more people will be able to see it, but you also look really silly.

So instead of looking silly, look like a social media pro and follow these tips so you can share them instead. And remember: Despite what you’ve heard, just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true.

Speaking of sharing fake things, next week we’ll talk about that ridiculous Facebook copyright protection thing everyone is posting. Spoiler alert: Don’t post it.

Have questions about social media? Tweet them to @scottkleinberg with hashtag #SoSocial. He might use yours in a future column.

Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune