The Dangers of #FakeNews and False Positives in Discovery

The need to verify social media evidence and avoid fake news has become evident in the United States and abroad. Do you know how to tell the difference between credible online stories, social media and web evidence?

By now, we’ve all heard about the dangers of fake news, in one form or another. The term “fake news” has been used both as a political slur targeting traditional media, and as a label for the political propaganda distributed on social media aimed at swaying voters during an election. But, the problem is even bigger than that.

In some parts of the world, including the United States, the problem of false and misleading social media posts is having scary, unintended consequences beyond just an influence on the political discourse. Social media posts with incorrect information are leading to an atmosphere of fear, and have been cited as the justification for mob violence and the deaths of innocent targets.

#FakeNews and the problem of false or misleading social media evidence

Within just the last few weeks, reports have come out about police and law enforcement officials having to correct false claims made on social media that gangs were targeting women to kidnap and kill in a college town. The social media posts made the rounds before any announcement could be made that there was no evidence that was actually happening.

Although most people sharing the social media posts were likely trying to promote general safety by passing along a warning to others in their community, they were also unknowingly spreading rumors that were leading to a climate of fear. Unfortunately, many people don’t check the source before passing along even the most sensational social media posts.

While that’s not necessarily a problem when it’s just a funny picture or feel good story, sharing a false warning about threatened violence can have serious real-world consequences outside of social media. And unfortunately, social media rumors spread even with the best of intentions can lead to worse outcomes than just being afraid and increasing precautions.

Take, for example, a recent story about mob violence caused by false social media posts. In India, fake news has caused deaths. People are scared to leave their homes, and sometime receive disturbing images through their personal social media accounts.

And if you think it couldn’t happen here, you’re wrong. Even at home in the United States, police and officials often have to debunk social posts that lead to the same types of fear that lead to violence. It’s not an unlikely possibility.

Social media posts have real world consequences. People can sometimes take action based on what they read, without properly considering the source and the outcome of actions taken in the heat of the moment.

Today, many are counseling individuals to beware of misleading social media posts. They advise cynicism, fact checking, and a healthy dose of discretion about what sources are deemed credible.

For that reason, private individuals aren’t the only people that should be concerned about being fooled by fake news peddled on social media. Legal professionals and others have legitimate concerns about the credibility of social media posts, and with good reason.

It’s important to remember, too, that social media evidence can be altered or removed to create false or misleading impressions. Just as private individuals must learn to double check the truth of a social media post before sharing and only trust tested sources, legal professionals are now relying on trained, certified social media analysts to collect and verify data.

Here at SMI Aware, our social media and web data analysts are a trusted source to gather defensible, accurate online evidence. It’s important to get it right. The consequences of getting it wrong are too serious to risk gathering data without a trained analyst to check the source.

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