Quizzing your Quizzes: Verify your “Shares” on Facebook, Part 2

And what about all those posts, blogs, and articles that we share on FB? Can I investigate more thoroughly before I click share? Here are just a couple of things worth considering when investigating the sources of what we post:

Dandelion Silhouettes with Flying Seeds http://www.freepik.com/

Everyone needs to be more careful to choose which posts, blogs, and websites they are willing to expose their friends and family to through electronic media sharing.

What is the actual address of that website? The legitimacy of a shared posting or shared quiz, such as that game, coupon, or other marketed post you want to share with your FB friends, will almost surely show on the actual domain name of the website that you have clicked to from the shared post, quiz, or blog article. To find that out, click on the address bar in your browser (i.e., box at the top of that webpage) of any website to look at the full domain name on the URL (i.e., entire http//:www.address); if that web address looks fishy (i.e., it doesn’t sound like the kind of address that matches that company’s real website or the address doesn’t look like it matches any legitimate-looking company), the website might not really be sponsored by the company you think that you are clicking to, but actually something about it might be false. If the article or blog post says it is from some or another news source, like the New York Times, then if the website or Facebook page is a little off from that, say, “Newyourk Times” or some such, pay attention to that and be warned.

A caveat to that point is that sometimes the web address of a company doesn’t necessarily look like a match to a site. This might happen for several reasons, since sites are hosted in lots of various ways, including those free hosting sites that want to include some of their business’ name in the web address; also, some hosting companies or some parent companies of businesses have domain names that rule over the whole organization. For example, a daughter company or a company that merged or was bought out might have a website name that reflects the larger corporate entity of which the site you want is only a small part. Also URLs/web addresses have always been dispensed on a first-come, first-serve basis to whoever pays for the name, even if they have nothing to do with the actual company; in this case, some individual was able to get a jump on a name and then sort of hold it for ransom to the highest bidder, so sometimes the name someone wants is simply already owned. However,  most large companies, like Target or Coke, pay for the URL or website name that they want and own the legitimate web addresses to match pretty well with their name. In most cases, whatever entity is trying to drive you to its website, should have a website or domain name that makes sense to you. In other words, what you think is a “funny” or not matching web address, might not really be funny at all; therefore, matching the name to the site is a yellow light for skepticism, but not a full stop sign.

A bigger flashing light to raise our skepticism about the originator of a shared article or posting: after following back on a shared post, worry if you find that the website that shared it doesn’t contain any findable identifying information that indicates the identity of the site or the articles’ publishers or authors. If a website hasn’t posted any information about who they are, such as is found on an “About page,” a “Contact us” page, or an “Archive” or “History” page, then be skeptical about whatever they are publishing or sharing. Everything published should be verifiable and subject to reasonable push-back, whether the information sets the date for the original publication, research study, or the names and qualification of the author or researcher. “Who said that? Why should I believe them? What are their credentials?” are essential questions that always need answers. If no answers to these questions can be determined from the site, don’t bother sharing items from that site. Some sites welcome feedback and host discussion forums about the topics addressed. Reading through this feedback can enrich the experience on the website, but of course often, there is a lot of garbage found on such discussions. When you are sharing articles, don’t forget that you are also sharing the discussion boards, the ads, the other links that are on that website, so anything you share, will also share whatever links to that link. These links are a chain; we are talking about the metaphor of a “web,” after all.  You could unknowingly be linking your family and friends to a chain of inaccurate or unsupported information .

Also, if the originating dates of the blogs, postings, or articles you find on these sites are older than a year or two, or if the articles don’t have any supporting evidence, such as the citations for the references to their claims, then I would not share anything from that website (or believe anything that they say, actually). Frequently, I have seen someone share an “article” on FB, that when “clicked,” shows a website or a blog that paraphrases or quotes another blog or website, that when clicked, leads to a seemingly endless chain of websites/blogs/links that have quoted from that same article, but none of them have ever attributed the work to an author or a date or an original published source for the material. If you do happen to follow all of this and find the beginning link in the chain, often you will find yourself several years—if not decades—into old material with a questionable validity to begin with and one that has clearly become outdated. Sadly, the lie, the debunked, and the misinformed have an “eternal” life online, because the unsubstantiated, the inaccurate, and the outdated are linked and shared unendingly.

Quizzing your Quizzes: Verify your “Shares” on Facebook, Part 1

Do you ever worry about all those quizzes shared on FB? What some of these quiz sites might really want is your information—the information that you don’t generally share with strangers, such as access to your FB page and your contacts’ list.

Munroe, Randall. “Xkcd: Communication.” Web log post. Xkcd: Communication. Copyright Creative Commons, Web. 13 April 2015. http://xkcd.com/1511/

Munroe, Randall. “Xkcd: Communication.” Web log post. Xkcd: Communication. Copyright Creative Commons, Web. 13 April 2015. http://xkcd.com/1511/

I have taken some of these quizzes myself. They are almost irresistible and usually quite self-congratulating, but recently, something was a bit odd about a quiz that I had just taken. It seemed a bit suspicious that I, as well as all of my friends taking the quiz, started posting that everyone had received scores of 100% correct, even though some of the questions had been quite obscure. (After all, who, besides me, knows anything about the Muscovite princes?) This result raised my curiosity and made me suspicious in a way that I probably should have been already.  I decided to stop taking the quizzes altogether. These quizzes seem to pop-up with an increasing rapidity, with their fun and attractive topics that appeal to everyone in an upbeat style and eye-catching images—favorite Disney princesses, favorite Beatle’s songs, favorite movies, favorite states, favorite form of mineral deposit—all just part of the fun and appeal of Facebook. However, who of us ever asks any questions about the things that we “Share” with each other, including these quizzes? How many of us ask, “Who is behind this?” or “Why should I give that nameless entity access to all of my ‘Friends and contacts?”

And what about all those posts, blogs, and articles that we share on FB? Can I investigate more thoroughly before I click share? Here are just a couple of things worth considering when investigating the sources of what we post:

First of all, you can copy the source or name associated with the FB quiz or website, by opening up a tab in your browser and pasting that name in a search box (or in other words, googling it). Sometimes that site or web address will have been researched already by people who have reviewed it to praise or debunk it. This first and most basic stop on the way to validating the legitimacy of a site is rarely even reached by most people. Do you think of this before you share something on Social Media?

Most people, unfortunately, see something, and “click”—share it. Googling Snopes.com or urbanlegends.about.com or charitynavigator.org or else, just trying to get some further and more objective information about the source of a post or quiz, should be the first step in satisfying my most basic need for verification and curiosity. If you think something is interesting, make sure that it really is worth sharing.

Additionally, the FB professional page of a legitimate source, such as a well-known company, will clearly show an appropriate number of followers to match their prominence (i.e., millions of followers for a major business, thousands or hundreds of followers for a local one) and their FB business page will click back to their real, working website and other social media (i.e., the Coca-cola business page will click back to their site where you can sign up for their legitimate Twitter stream; my professional page, “Susan W. LaVelle, Information Design” will show you my website, susanwlavelle.com, and clicking to my website, will show a live feed for my FB professional page and Twitter feed, both of which will link you back to my websites). Anything requested or shared on FB would more likely be found as legit if it links to the connections that legitimate that site as a reliable source. Finding openness and clarity helps to verify that the Facebook page that you are sharing from is actually what you think it to be.