I saw it on the Web, so it must be True

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GWIt happens on Facebook nearly every day. Someone posts a meme (like the one above) implying that they are quoting a well-known person about some topic relevant to today’s issues. The Pope says we don’t have to believe in God (no, he didn’t say that). Or people share a fake news story and we see it so often that some people start believing it’s true. Sorry, folks, but the world’s first successful head transplant did not take place.

Some websites intermix real news with the fake stuff. It’s all about gaining web traffic, often through “click bait” — getting readers on social media sites to click on a link to their site. Then there are the Facebook posts asking you to type a word in the comments (“Amen” or “jump”) to see something amazing. Of course, nothing amazing happens when you comment, but a post with lots of comments or “Likes” results in Facebook’s algorithms boosting the number of times people will see other posts from that same page. More visibility translates to more visits to their site, which can translate to higher ad income for them. And if that site happens to have some bad code running on it, and your security software doesn’t catch it, you may start seeing ads for them everywhere you browse or perhaps you’ll end up with a software virus on your computer or device. Oops.

Here’s another little trick to grab as much information about you as possible. You know all those little “quizzes” that show up as posts or ads on websites? “How many of these Beatles songs can you identify?” “What movie star are you most like?” Pay close attention if you’re asked to give permission to a app to use your information before you take the quiz. Do you really want to share all your photos, list of friends, posts, and personal information with some unknown person or organization? Not good.

I love the ability to look up almost anything on the internet, but it comes at a price. For every carefully-researched web page with an answer to your question, there are probably a hundred that “answer” it with an agenda in mind. It’s so easy to make up a quote and create a graphic for people who might like that quote to share, never checking if the meme might be fake. It’s almost as easy to write a fake “news” article about anything.

Reader, beware.

P.S. Here are a couple of good sites to use to check out questionable things you read online:

http://www.snopes.com/
http://www.factcheck.org/


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