Trolls, bots, and photoshop — oh, my! The internet puts the world at our fingertips, which is pretty awesome, so says someone who used to actually use encyclopedias for research. But with all the fake news in the news these days, proceed with caution, readers, because you can’t believe everything you read online.
Think of the internet like a conversation you’re having with a group of random people at a party. You can tell pretty quickly who has some clout and who is…well…full of it. You use your judgement when trusting people face-to-face, but for some reason, people throw caution to the wind online, trusting a stranger’s blog, a WebMD diagnosis that connects a hangnail to a terminal disease, a photo proving the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, a shared article that we pass along after reading only the headline, and a pin on Pinterest that seems like a piece of cake.
There are tons of articles dedicated to Pinterest fails for a reason: You can’t trust everything you read online. And, just for the sake of proving it (which is sort of the whole point of this article), here’s why.
These trolls have nothing to do with the adorable creatures who sound a lot like Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick. Internet trolls can often be found stirring up trouble on social media by commenting on public posts or in the comments section of literally any website that fits their target.
Internet trolls are somewhat reminiscent of the playground bully. They tend to zero-in on a particular organization or topic (for reasons that may or may not be justified), and they bash them at every opportunity. They may post negative, borderline offensive replies that can contain links to propaganda-like material. It is likely that they will try to coerce you into a debate or online confrontation. Just like mama said about those grade-school bullies, it’s best to just ignore the internet trolls. You won’t change their minds. You won’t get under their skin, but there’s a good chance they’ll get under yours. No thanks, we’re just here for the adorable cat videos.
Unlike trolls, bots aren’t people, they’re internet robots. They aren’t all bad, but the naughty bots can work faster than the best-of-the-best internet troll because they can share spam faster and without thought — they are robots, after all.
If you’ve ever seen a spam-like post or comment — one that doesn’t really have anything to do with the conversation or one that looks like it’s a click away from a virus, it may be a bot. The danger here is that a bot’s reach is wide, and bots spread false information faster than a cold in a preschool classroom. Meaning, they can quickly influence public opinion by reposting a false article over and over, and unsuspecting social media followers believe it and share it.
Do your research, and if you get a friend or follow request from someone you’ve never heard of who has like three friends, be leery. If you see a viral post, check the validity. Snopes can help you differentiate between fact and fiction online.
Back in the day when people used to call each other on landlines, the ultimate dupe was pretending to be someone else on the phone. You know you threw your voice to sound like your sister to get some gossip out of her friends at least once.
Today, internet hackers take it to a whole new level. Most big website hacks are newsworthy and resolved quickly, but the lesser known hacks happen all the time. How many times have you seen a friend’s Facebook account get hacked — like every other Tuesday, right? If you see a post that is out of character for your friend or an organization on social media, resist the urge to judge on sight. It may be a hack, so think before you click, share, or reply.
Yes, the photo editing applications that work better than the most expensive wrinkle creams can also trick our brains into believing fake news. The claim used to be, “I need to see it to believe it,” but that doesn’t fly anymore. With the right know-how, anything can be photoshopped.
Blogs and Wiki
Information used to be funneled through traditional media (newspapers and radio and television broadcasts). With the rise of the blog, everyone can now chime in, which is cool because information is readily available that traditional media might never give a second glance — how many prime-time news stories about road-trip hacks have you ever heard? But blog reading comes with a disclaimer: Just because someone operates a blog does not make them an authority on their subject matter. By all means, use blogs and Wiki for ideas — the start of your research, but head to organization websites to follow up.
Ever shared something before realizing it was written six years ago? Check the date before you pass something off as breaking news. An internet search returns results based on your keywords, not necessarily the most recent posts.
The internet has simplified our lives, no question about that — our kids will never know the struggle of life before the internet. But we all have a responsibility to use the internet responsibly. Check it before you get out of joint or buy into an idea. Does it sound like an opinion? Does it look like spam? Does it seem out of place or out of context? Is it relevant? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, take your clicks somewhere else.
Photo Credits: Corry Frazier Photography