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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Think before falling victim to click bait

Jill Barville Correspondent

If you saw your dental hygienist passing out fliers that said, “Do 10 pushups in the grocery store checkout line and be entered to win $1 million,” you’d probably shake your head and think him naive.

But if the flier had the grocery store logo at the top and your neighbor who works in finance, your daughter’s preschool teacher and your newspaper delivery person all waved that flier in your face, would you consider doing the pushups, just in case? Or would you wonder why so many of your normally intelligent acquaintances were so gullible?

This column is an Internet intervention, a public service column to save your face. A lot of intelligent people are looking like fools on the Internet.

But you don’t have to.

Step 1: Do a little fact checking before you share.

It’s worth a few extra minutes to double-check the content of that meme, article or social media post before you share it. Look at the date, check the source or enter a few facts in a browser and see what comes back.

If it seems fantastical or makes your blood pressure go up a few notches, you should see red flags and be dubious.

Last winter, many locals shared a picture of what they thought was a big tour bus dwarfed by giant walls of snow at Snoqualmie Pass. Since the pass had been closed off-and-on due to snow and avalanche control, they believed the erroneous caption.

To make the picture seem more plausible, someone in Hayden asserted it was indeed Snoqualmie. But it wasn’t. It was part of the famous snow wall along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in Japan.

It took about two minutes to do a Google search for the image and discover its source. It took even less time to look up the webcams at Snoqualmie. The Washington state Department of Transportation has numerous webcams along our highways, and I highly recommend them over any social media site when you’re considering cross-state travel.

Knowing your source is important. Just because you read it online doesn’t make it true. Does that picture with the inflammatory words cite the date, location or occasion so you can validate its veracity? Did it come from a reputable media source that adheres to a code of ethics?

It’s easy to lie, misconstrue and exaggerate online with little impunity. Don’t be easily misled if you see a story or a picture supposedly quoting a candidate from “the other” party that gets your dander up. The point of those memes is to make you emotional, so you stop using your brain.

Far too often quotes are taken out of context or concocted, then plastered on a photo and passed around. If that’s how our electorate gets educated, it only means the American people are easy to manipulate.

Even if you know that your source adheres to basic journalistic ethics, it’s a good idea to check the dates on newspaper and magazine stories before you share them. That story about the local civic leader who died might have run in The Spokesman-Review four years ago. That article about an activist in a town across the country may be many months old.

Similarly, check the date and location on grass-roots news efforts that appeal to your goodwill and attempt to leverage the power of social media. That post about a missing child may be two years old and the one about the horse that needs a home may be from a small town in Texas last May.

Simply clicking through to the original post and perusing the comments will often reveal out-of-date information, reunited families and pets placed in new homes.

And if you have any red flags waving in your head that a story sounds a little too good or too bad to be true, help keep gullibility at bay with a short search on a debunking website like snopes.com. Don’t be a pawn, easily led astray by an emotional reaction to a headline. Dig deeper and refuse to perpetuate myths and misinformation.

Finally, I know this is sad news, but if you didn’t receive a Christmas card this year from the person offering money, it’s almost certainly a hoax. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet aren’t going to throw money at a random number of people who like and share a post by midnight, even if they’re holding a sign that says so.

It would take me about four minutes to fake the writing on a celebrity photograph, and just because someone said they saw it on a network news show doesn’t make it true.

What is true is that a lot of people want to take your money, but only people who love you want to give it to you. And most of them would rather you make your own money so they can spend theirs. Stay savvy and think twice before sharing.

Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at jbarville@msn.com.

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