Before sharing that article or meme ...

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The year 2020 has challenged all of us to find new ways to connect with friends, family, and our community without leaving our homes. Older adults accustomed to an active lifestyle who may have not seen a need for using social media are starting to discover how Facebook can keep us connected and informed during this year when more of us are feeling isolated. Facebook allows us to see what is happening with friends who have moved away, and stay connected with friends who seem far away as we continue to keep physically distanced, awaiting a widely available vaccine for Covid-19.

To get the most out of Facebook we can follow businesses, personalities and organizations that share our values, sense of humor, and interests. Our friends may send us articles or other links that they think we might find interesting and we can share things back with a couple of taps on the computer or smart phone. Although Facebook utilizes algorithms and individuals to limit the sharing of harmful, violent or misleading information, it does not have reliable editorial standards for preventing the spread of misinformation altogether.

Algorithms based on what we search for online and the organizations and people we follow help Facebook determine what advertising gets sent to us. Facebook also uses algorithms and individuals to monitor what is posted on Facebook to reduce the spread of misinformation. However, it is important to know that not everything that makes it into our social media feeds is a true or accurate representation.

A 2016 research study by Princeton University and NYU revealed that adults over 65 are more than twice as likely to share false information over Facebook as younger individuals. This is likely due to the fact that younger individuals have grown up relying on digital media and evaluating digital resources. The good news is, the study found that only about 8.5% of social media users are sharing information that is misleading.

Before reposting any information, remember to take the following steps:

1. Read more than the headlines. Shocking headlines are often referred to as “click-bait” trying to get people to open articles that link or are supported by advertisements or sometimes even scams.

2. If information seems too good to be true, too bad to be true, or too outlandish to be true, you might want to investigate further. Most of us sometimes fall into the trap of what is called “confirmation bias” when an article seems to confirm and expand what we already believe to be true.

3. Are there other sources reporting on this? Look for consistency of facts being reported and a variety of sources. You can also search for more information about the author or website who created the post to learn of any strong biases.

4. Is there a video or photograph included? It may be a “deep fake” — meaning the video has been altered and taken out of context with artificial intelligence. See if there are reports of it being a “deep fake.”

Social media is a great tool to help us learn more about what our friends, family and community see as important in their world. When we use social media wisely it has the power to unite us through conversation, story sharing, and understanding of each other.

Tiffany Curtin is the Adult Literacy Specialist at Douglas County Libraries. For additional information, please contact tcurtin@dclibraries.org. To learn more, please attend the upcoming virtual presentation as noted below.

This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next virtual online presentation Jan. 7 at 10 a.m. Tiffany Curtin and Alison Evans will be our presenters about Real or Fake Facebook Information. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.

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