“Knowledge is power.” But knowledge of lies doesn’t do anyone any good. So here are a bunch of tips for knowing whether something is real or fake.

First, Facebook.  And incredibly sadly, Facebook is where too many people get their “news”.

  • Take a look through your Friends List. How many people do you actually know, and how many are people that you connected to via someone else, or, through a comment they added to a public group? Consider unfriending anyone you don’t know. And avoid friending people that you cannot back check.
  • When you receive a friend request from someone you DO know, see if they are already a friend. A common current Facebook scam is that you receive a friend request from someone you thought was already a Facebook friend. They may have hijacked an account.
  • Alternately, you receive a message that looks like it is from someone you know — that is, the same photo, asking “How are you?” or something similar. Once you answer, they’ll start a conversation and you’ll end up with spam in your PM and they’ll work towards getting your friends list. Make sure to report these folks – Facebook likely won’t do anything, but it pays to try.
  • This will decrease the amount of falsehoods you see, but will not end them.

Now that you’re seeing less from people you don’t know, learn how to evaluate the ads and “articles” that appear on your feed. This is often where you’ll see things that appeal to you. For someone with my political leanings, that may well include anti-Trump materials, anti-ICE materials, etc. While you may well agree with the sentiment, it pays to consider the source. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are some sources that can be trusted. Yes, they can occasionally make an error, but because they adhere to the Code of Journalistic Ethics, will get things right 99.5% of the time. They include, in alphabetic order, although are not limited to:

  • AP
  • Axios
  • BBC
  • The Economist
  • The Guardian
  • The New York Times
  • NPR
  • Reuters
  • Talking Points Memo
  • The Washington Post
  • USA Today
  • Vox

If you see something, Google the subject matter and see if it is also reported by a trusted source. Even better, CEASE getting your news from Facebook and instead rely on journalistic sources, and more importantly source documentation. Source documentation is the best, and always the most complete and correct material. “Source documentation” includes things like Executive Orders, Legislation, Court Filings and Orders, etc. Yes, I hear you, “I don’t have time to read source documentation, and in the past, when I’ve tried, I don’t always understand it.” Then, use the trusted sources which will parse the information and present the high points.

An aside: in 2009 and 2010, I read what became the Affordable Care Act. ALL OF IT. I still have the 3,000+ pages in boxes, annotated, tagged, and highlighted. I blogged on parts of it at least every other day for almost the year it was being created. So when I say “I know it’s hard” – I know it. Most pieces of legislation are not that long, and are heady, but there are people around who can help translate. But that is the most accurate data source. Think about it, if you are interested in what is going on in a trial (perhaps the Manafort trial, or the ACLU suit to reunite families, which is a better source: the transcript and findings, or what someone tells you happened?

Another way to check information is to use Snopes and PolitiFact. Both of these sources are fantastic for evaluating what is true and what is fake.

If you see something on a Group page that you find suspicious, report it to the Moderators. On the ICC group page, we like to let people express their opinions (so long as they do not violate our posting guidelines) but those are opinions. For “factual” articles, we take our roles seriously and delete anything that we check and find to be “Fake News”. We are careful about the people we allow to be members of our Facebook group (as do many of the other groups) and when we make a mistake, we remove those folks. What YOU can do is be selective regarding the groups you follow: are they local to you? Do they have meetings where you can meet the leadership team and other members? What is the group’s Mission Statement? Who are the members? Does the group have other things, such as a website and a newsletter that shows that the group itself is legitimate?

Second, Twitter. Be careful in terms of who you follow. There are many legitimate sources of news, and places like Politico and the sources in the list above, along with ABC, CBS and NBC are great for breaking news alerts. And Twitter has done a far better job than Facebook in terms of cutting out fake accounts. So use caution. Another thing that Twitter is great for is local news. For example, if you want to follow one of the California fires, find the hash tag and you’ll see local photos and evacuation orders.

Third, one of the best things that you can is to cease using Facebook as your news source. Sure, it’s easy, but you are better off getting a subscription to a newspaper. They are cheap, and you can sign up for breaking news alerts, and daily briefings. In addition, this is one of the best things that you can do to help decrease fake news because you are supporting legitimate journalism. If you have an Amazon Prime account, a Washington Post subscription will cost you $3.99/month. The Times runs specials, but tops out at $15/month. The Guardian is by donation only. This is precious little coin to help support the people who make up the Press Pool. The current regime views the Mainstream Media as “enemy of the people” and work diligently to avoid them, devalue them, and create false equivalences. Be part of the solution: subscribe.

Fourth: make sure your connections are secure. You are exposed on the internet. Not just on Facebook and Twitter, but through all you touch. Do you have anti-virus protection? Do you update it regularly? Is your modem password-protected with something other than the password that came with the hardware? Do you have an additional firewall? A VPN? How are your passwords? Each should be discrete and never re-used between sites. You can use a password management program. One of several good ones is LastPass. Then – what do you store in the cloud? Is it a safe repository? Is it password protected with a unique password? It’s very easy to share Google Docs, but they are completely insecure so consider using Google Docs if you need to, but then putting the final version in a safer location and deleting the material once everyone has completed their review.

Finally – be part of the solution.

  • Curate your connections on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Report anything questionable on Facebook.
  • Never repost anything without checking it first.
  • Subscribe to a legitimate newspaper (or more!)
  • Stay safe on the internet.
  • Commit to vote on 6 November 2018, with several friends – if we can retake our government, we will all be more safe in all regards.