In addition to our strategies we’ll introduce one more word of advice: Check your emotions.
This isn’t quite a strategy (like “go upstream”) or a tactic (like using date filters to find the origin of a fact). For lack of a better word we are calling it a habit.
The habit is simple. When you feel strong emotion — happiness, anger, pride, vindication — and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, STOP. Above all, it’s these things that you must fact-check.
Why? Because you’re already likely to check things you know are important to get right, and you’re predisposed to analyze things that put you an intellectual frame of mind. But things that make you angry or overjoyed, well… our record as humans are not good with these things.
As an example, we might cite this tweet which crossed my Twitter feed:
You don’t need to know that much of the background here to see the emotionally charged nature of this. President Trump had insulted Chuck Schumer, a Democratic Senator from New York, saying tears that Schumer shed during a statement about refugees were “fake tears”. This tweet reminds us that that Senator Schumer’s great grandmother died at the hands of the Nazis, which could explain Schumer’s emotional connection to the issue of refugees.
Or does it? Do we actually know that Schumer’s great-grandmother died at the hands of the Nazis? And if we are not sure this is true, should we really be retweeting it?
Our normal inclination is to ignore verification needs when we react strongly to content, and researchers have found that content that causes strong emotions (both positive and negative) spreads the fastest through our social networks. Savvy activists and advocates utilize this flaw of ours, getting past our filters by posting material that goes straight to our heart.
Building new habits requires that we identify “pegs” on which to hang those habits. So use your emotions as a reminder — as a trigger for your fact-checking habit. If every time content you want to share makes you feel rage, or laughter, or ridicule, or, sorry to say, a heartwarming buzz — spend 30 seconds fact-checking you’ll do pretty well.