HOAX VERIFICATION GUIDELINES
It is human nature to respond spontaneously to sensationalist stories, particularly relating to human injustice and suffering. There is something appealing about being ‘woken’ up from our daily existence, and we respond instinctively to the need to ‘do something’ or to ‘get the word out’ about an emergency or a tragedy.
But there is danger in forwarding information that is false, misleading or incorrect. People are led to focus on lies while there are genuine needs elsewhere that require our prayers, and false information can lead to fear and confusion.
Below are seven ways that might help the Christian community to test information for themselves before passing it on.
1.USE YOUR COMMON SENSE
This might sound like the obvious, but very often the topic is something close to our hearts, so readers may believe the false story before weighing the facts. Remember, if it is too good (or too bad) to be true, it probably is. If the message reveals extremely important information that nobody else is talking about in reputable media sources, be very suspicious.
Another application of common sense is simply to look at the content of the email. If the aim of the email seems to be more about persuading than informing the reader, be suspicious. Hoaxers are more interested in pushing people’s emotional buttons than communicating accurate information.
Read carefully and think critically about what the message says, looking for logical inconsistencies, violations of common sense and blatantly false claims.
Then start your research…
2. CLICK ON ANY AVAILABLE LINKS
If there is a link somewhere in the email or text message, follow that through to the website and see what other articles are published there, and whether the source looks like something that reports credible news.
3. DO A GOOGLE SEARCH
Type in key words for the ‘story’ (e.g. “missionaries kidnapped in Afghanistan”) – if it is a genuine news story, it will be reported somewhere on mainstream media.
If it is a hoax, the Google search is likely to call up some of the following websites (or similar ones) that deal with hoaxes:
4. CRITICALLY ANALYSE THE SOURCE
If the story doesn’t register on mainstream media or on any hoax pages, take a closer look at the kinds of webpages on which the story is appearing:
- Facebook and Twitter are full of ‘shared’ items that bounce from person to person but have no legitimacy.
- Blogs are not always reliable sources as they are completely open to opinion and blog writers are not accountable to any media bodies in the way that news reporters are.
- Christian websites are not always trustworthy – have a look to see what else is featured on the site.
5. LOOK OUT FOR SATIRE
Many of the stories that have very high emotional impact actually turn out to be satire – which means that they drawn on or are based on some genuine facts but then include other completely ridiculous claims (i.e. a little truth and a whole lot of noise).
These are either intended as joke, or are written in anger to make a point about a genuine injustice or tragic issue, but they can cause a major disturbance when they are taken for serious news.
All satire websites are required to state somewhere that their reports are satirical, so look for a link on the website that says “ABOUT” or “ABOUT US”.
6. LOOK OUT FOR ‘CHAIN LETTER’ FORMATS
Chain letters generally include some emotional manipulation (e.g. “If you don’t have the time to pass this on, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t have time for you”) or incentive (e.g. “Forward this to 10 people and God will bless you”). Generally, the content in these kinds of emails is untrustworthy!
7. ASK SOME JOURNALISTIC QUESTIONS
Look for the oldest postings of the story that you can find, and ask some questions:
- Was the first ‘reporter’ someone who would have been in the location of the reported event at the time it supposedly occurred? Or does the first ‘report’ look like it could be second-hand information?
- Is the image of the reported event genuine, or is it an image from an entirely different event? Do a search for images on the internet (using a site like TinEye – https://www.tineye.com/). With a bit of sifting and scanning through the results, you should be able to see whether the image appears on any reputable mainstream media sources, and whether the report connected with that image is on the same event that the image was attributed to in the email/Facebook post/text message that you received. Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer (http://regex.info/exif.cgi) is another good site for investigating images and from where they might have come.
If you still have any doubts, rather don’t pass the email or text message on!
Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions about information you receive – the ministry aims to be of service to the Christian community.
Email Andrew ( firstname.lastname@example.org) for any verification requests.