I can’t stand conflict. It’s one of my least favorite things in the world. Usually when I see contention brewing, I look for some place to hide. When it comes to Facebook, finding a place to hide is not possible. So instead, I scroll past posts hoping not to read enough that I get sucked into the madness.

But sometimes I can’t help myself. I accidentally read that inflammatory (or intriguing) headline, and feel rage (or excitement, justification, or any other host of emotions) bubbling to the surface. I click, uncertain of what lies on the next page – praying that it won’t be another slow-loading listicle with each item on a separate page.

And then, I read it. Paragraphs of words strewn together – crafted just for me.

Sometimes these words justify my own feelings and beliefs. I feel lifted up, proven, backed. This justification makes me feel good about myself. It also reminds me how stupid people who believe differently than me must be. I mean, look at the facts, written clearly in this article. How could anyone not see that this is truth?

Sometimes these words enrage me. They play on my specific fears. I feel angry, afraid, and riled. This inciting article makes my blood pressure rise. I think of all the people who have called my fears unfounded, paranoid, or radical, and I can’t believe how stupid they are. I mean, look at the facts, written clearly in this article. How could anyone not see that this is truth?

And sometimes, it’s just another slow-loading listicle. And even though I don’t want to wait 30 seconds for each page to load, I just can’t help myself. I have to know what the 35 most ironic images I’ve ever seen are – especially since #17 will make me doubt everything.

Now, I never share the listicles because I hate myself for reading them. But with my blood pressure elevated and my pride inflated, sometimes I think about sharing that article that was crafted just for me. It would be so easy to share the facts with those idiots who don’t agree with me.

Go ahead. Press the share button; start a raging war on your Facebook page; chuckle at the stupidity of your friends and revel in the fight.

But what if this article turns out to be strongly biased, false, or even intentionally misleading? 

What can be done to avoid looking stupid online?

Don't Look Stupid Online | Share Responsibly | 4 Tips for sharing responsibly so you don't look stupid online

4 Steps So You Don’t Look Stupid Online

Consider this a public service announcement. I really care about you and don’t want to see you make a fool of yourself online. It happens to all of us at one time or another, but we can minimize our risks by being more cautious in our sharing.

Step 1: Evaluate the content.

Is the article you are thinking about sharing too good to be true, too bad to be true, or emotionally charged? If so, that is a red flag. Look for clues to determine whether or not the article is factual.

  • Follow-up on experts. Who are these people anyway? Are their opinions grounded in fact or bias? Are they receiving money for their endorsement? Are they really experts in this field?
  • Remember that quotes can be twisted. Just because someone quotes me as saying “unicorns… exist [as long as]… you believe that they do” doesn’t mean that’s what I said. I could have said “unicorns don’t exist. Just because you believe that they do doesn’t make them real.” See how I could be quoted as saying the exact opposite of what I said. Twisting quotes is an art, but if someone is writing online, remember that it may be an art they make a living on.
  • Beware of indefinite and hazy facts. If the article is citing a different article, an interview, or a study, find the original. And if the article doesn’t give you specifics and you can’t find the information in its entirety elsewhere, it could be made up.

Step 2: Evaluate the source.

By now, you should know that The Onion is a satire site. So if this article is there, then remember – it’s not real. But there are a lot of other websites that have sprung up since The Onion’s online success.

  • Press [ctrl]+F and search “satire” on the site. Does it bring anything up?
  • Read the disclaimers at the bottom of the site or on a different page.
  • Read the comments at the bottom of the article. Are people questioning the validity of the article?
  • Google “is [insert source name here] legitimate/satire/real/biased?”

Step 3: Check other sources.

If you really want to protect yourself, there is one final step you should follow before sharing the article. Check other sources. Information has been decentralized, which means anyone can make a claim and make it sound legitimate. If you find the information on multiple sites (especially if you find it on multiple reputable sites), then it is likely true. Of course, it still could be a hoax, but at least you’ve done your homework, and if it is a hoax, you won’t be the only one looking stupid online.

Step 4: Share responsibly.

Now that you have determined the article is in fact true, you can share without fear. Just remember that you are friends with people who disagree with you. As a final check, you may want to try reading the article through their eyes. Just because something is true doesn’t mean it is unbiased. If the article has good information, but is written in an inflammatory tone, it should be easy to find a different article covering the same content that you can share.

After all, the point of Facebook is to connect with people you care about – not to try to make them look stupid or convert them to your beliefs. The truth is that human nature makes it difficult for us to accept facts when they conflict with our opinions. So don’t be offended if your friend still doesn’t believe the article, no matter how certain you are that it is factual. Just take a deep breath, count to ten, and go back to looking at those ironic pictures. Because, really… #17 will make you doubt everything.

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