I recently presented “Too Good to Be True?” at the BEA (Broadcast Education Association) Ignite session in Las Vegas. BEA Ignite shares the best enterprise ideas for the classroom. You can view all the Ignite presentations here.

This group exercise helps students determine the credibility of social media information. News professionals can also use these tips. We know misinformation can spread like wildfire on social media. Some journalists have taken the bait, duped into reporting inaccurate information from social media platforms. The “Too Good to Be True?” exercise helps students better understand how to analyze information on social media platforms. The exercise can be easily adapted to include examples from your local media market. Students learn how to both analyze the credibility of online sources and balance the pressure to disseminate with traditional news values.

How the exercise works

  1. The instructor selects real and fake photos and information that circulated on social media before being reported by news outlets. I use national/international scenarios (a shark swimming along a flooded street) and at least one from my local media market (Paul McCartney visiting a suburb of my city). View the PowerPoint below to see the examples that I use.
  2. Students are divided into groups of 4 to 6. Each group is assigned one scenario, which includes a photo and background information.
  3. Part I: the instructor asks each group to discuss how they would verify/determine accuracy of the information in the assigned scenario. After 10 minutes, the groups report back to the class.
  4. Part II: students put the steps/tips they brainstormed in Part I into practice. The groups go online to find out the “real deal.” Is the social media information credible and accurate? If the social media information in the scenario is a hoax, which news outlet(s) reported the misinformation? In addition, students research whether the news outlet(s) issued a correction. After 10-15 minutes, the groups report back to class.
  5. Part III: collectively students synthesize their group lists, created in Part I, into one master list of 6 to 10 tips for verifying social media information. One student writes these tips on a white board. Finally, the instructor shares his/her best practices for analyzing the credibility of news tips from Twitter and Facebook.

My tips

  • If it looks/sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be skeptical.
  • Go old school! Contact the source of the post to ask questions, preferably via phone. If the information was re-tweeted or shared on Facebook via another person, track down the original source—the person who initially posted the information.
  • A review of the original source’s social media history can reveal whether the person typically tweets about the topic under scrutiny, the tone/type of previous posts, when the account was created, and the location they normally tweet about, among other items.
  • If the source has GPS enabled for Twitter or Facebook, you can check the location of posts to see if it matches the location they are talking about.
  • Seek social corroboration by asking tweeps, for example, in the respective location if they can verify the information. Are they seeing/experiencing the same thing?
  • Seek official corroboration of the social media information by contacting traditional sources, such as a police agency.
  • Use TinEye.com or Google Images to verify amazing images. After uploading a photo, the sites will search for similar images to help determine if a photo was altered.