“My biggest rule of thumb is if it arouses an emotional response in you, double-check it,” said Brooke Binkowksi, managing editor at Snopes, a website that specializes in debunking popular internet myths from both the left and the right. “They upset you because they’re meant to.”
When a story seems outrageous, such as a five-year-old Syrian refugee shown in handcuffs before deportation, it might not be true—or entirely true. That Syrian girl wasn’t in handcuffs, her father said after he had heard the reports, and they aren’t refugees. The photo shows detained Syrians trying to go on vacation who, despite their visas, were denied entry and had to return home. Binkowski and D.C. Vito, executive director of the Lamp, which teaches media literacy in New York, suggest searching for a second source, especially when a story is incendiary.
Sticking to stories reported by established news media can help. For different perspectives on U.S. events, Binkowski recommends getting news from a variety of outlets, such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, as well as overseas outlets such as the BBC and Al Jazeera. “I am not in the camp that Fox News is evil,” she said.
When a story comes to you through social media, take a moment to determine whether the news source is trustworthy. A photo with a message that it “comes from a friend” probably isn’t.