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Healthy dose of skepticism needed for Facebook news

I don’t browse my Facebook very much. I typically just skim the first five or six things that pop up at the top, but maybe some more if I’m particularly bored. A few weeks ago, however, I started seeing people share posts from a page called “North Carolina Breaking News.”

I was immediately skeptical of the Facebook page because the first story I saw was about a “sex trafficking” attempt at Walmart in Greenville where a man pretending to be an employee tried to follow a lady to her car. I’ve never seen a legitimate sex trafficking warning post on Facebook—they’re always fearmongering posts portraying human trafficking as what you see in the movies instead of how it happens in real life—so this misinformation was particularly frustrating to see. (In reality, human trafficking is often perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not a stranger in a parking lot trying to stuff you into their van or something like that.)

What I soon learned afterwards is that the story being shared over and over again didn’t happen in Greenville at all. Reporting from the Charlotte Observer uncovered that a similar event had happened in Kentucky, though that original news story made no attempt to label it as potential sex trafficking.

The Charlotte Observer story noted that the “North Carolina Breaking News” site was listed as “satire/parody” in the About section. That meant it wasn’t intended to be a credible source for news at all, no matter whether it was a fearmongering post like the Greenville story or a feel-good news story thrown into the mix to make them seem like a more believable page.

Investigation from the Winston-Salem Journal looked into several posts attributing good deeds to members of the Winston-Salem Police Department. What they uncovered was that these stories were often old articles stolen from somewhere else and twisted to look like a legitimate news story in North Carolina.

Further investigation by a Polifact reporter on WRAL’s website noted instances of plagiarism in some posts and racist content in others from the so-called “breaking news” Facebook page.

If you’re just seeing random posts pop up on your Facebook feed, you’re likely to easily miss the worst of the page’s posts or the “satire” label. (Though if you ask me, satire is supposed to be funny… so that’s not an accurate label to use either.)

Thankfully, Facebook has finally removed the “North Carolina Breaking News” page now, but I’m sure plenty of similar pages will pop up again soon. They try to look like legitimate news, but they’re often twisting the truth. And it’d be great if we had a lot less misinformation flying around.

In light of the situation, the News & Observer recently posted an article sharing tips about how you can spot “fake news” being shared on Facebook or any other social media.

Firstly, check the source. If you don’t recognize the source of the information as a legitimate well-known news outlet (such as your local TV stations or newspapers or public radio), you should do some digging. Once I clicked on the “North Carolina Breaking News” page and read a few more of their posts, all claiming to be recent news stories I hadn’t seen anyone else reporting on, I knew they were definitely up to no good.

Sometimes the Facebook page claimed to be sourcing a story from elsewhere but didn’t add a link to the original article (because it, of course, didn’t exist). That’s a big red flag too.

Googling headlines often helps as well. If you can’t find a match to what you’re reading on Facebook, what you’re reading on Facebook is probably wrong. You can also use websites like Snopes.com to check if a “viral” story is real or made-up for the attention.

It may take a little longer than it does to just blindly click the “share” button, but it’s worth it.

In my opinion, use a healthy dose of skepticism when you see news posted and shared on Facebook. For some reason, there are plenty of people out there who want to spread disinformation and confusion. Don’t let them succeed.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.