Puzzling out the Truth in the Age of Fake News

Image Courtesy voyata/iStock/Getty Images

Image Courtesy voyata/iStock/Getty Images

It's been a week or two now since I've seen any posts about Momo and I'm glad. 

I'm talking about posts where that mom has removed YouTube completely from her kid’s devices, or that other mom who stopped letting her children go to friend’s houses in case they went on YouTube, or that dad who took the devices away completely.  

On Facebook, a woman shared a Momo post saying, "Those of you calling it a hoax, look at this, my friend's child has SEEN it.”  A few days later it was determined that the poor child had received a "joke" Momo post from a peer. And while I felt badly that this child was being targeted for a decidedly unfunny joke, it was definitely not Momo.  

Ultimately, over the past couple weeks it has been widely reported that Momo was in fact a hoax, and while there was wide sharing of the Momo post and how it was very scary and dangerous, there were little, if any, authenticated examples of children receiving the threats or dangerous challenges.

When I asked my kids about Momo, my 13-year-old son had never heard of it (and he watches a LOT of YouTube) and my daughter, age 10, told me she'd heard three young kids committed suicide in our home town. So I had both extremes. 

It was a great opportunity to talk to them about how people easily take fiction for fact and spread it, and like a game of telephone, what you hear has probably passed through many people before it comes to you completely different from how it started.  

Undoubtedly, we've all seen these types of posts, the knee jerk reactions to something that is scary, or even that has the potential to be scary. Hysterics and massive shares generally create a phenomenon that we would never have seen prior to the advent of Social Media. 

The ability to easily "click share" without checking into validity or truth of a post has created a digital monster of falsehoods and deceptions.

Social media viral posts like these are not the time to take our kid's devices away, or strictly limit their access. It is a perfect opportunity to teach our kids, if they’re old enough to understand and have this conversation, how to be good digital citizens. To teach them how to determine what is truth and what is embellished. To not buy into every single, "OMG can you believe this happened" post.  

And this isn't isolated to the posts that are intended to scare us or our children. It's the memes that misrepresent facts to suit an agenda or the posts that claim you will be mugged in your car if you hear a baby crying and get out to investigate. 

We've all been guilty of sharing something we shouldn't have, because sometimes it can seem like a lot of work to investigate whether a post is true, much more work than simply sharing "just in case" it is true.  

So here are a few thoughts on when NOT to share:

1) Is it from an untrustworthy source? If it's from imadethisup.com, that's a good hint.

2) Is it decidedly biased?

3) Does it seem outlandish (too good, crazy, scary to be true)?

4) Is it going to incite mass hysteria or does it provoke a strong emotional reaction like fear or anger?

5) Are you asked to share in order to "get the word out"?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, spend some time researching it. Snopes is awesome. Or simply scroll by without sharing. 

The world of social media is new to many of us. We didn't grow up with it (well, us older parents didn't) and yet we are raising children who are virtually immersed in it from birth. 

It's a learning curve for everyone, but the more time we spend teaching our kids to be critical thinkers and the more time we spend being so ourselves, the less likely you will fall victim to spreading or believing false information. 

And trust me, your friends will thank you for it.

Amber Regamey Marsh