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How to Fact-Check the Internet

Not everything you read online is accurate. This guide will help you separate fact from fiction.

The Center for Great Apes

If you think you wash your hands carefully, you should see Sandra the orangutan. Sandra uses a brush and soapy water to scrub her long fingers for nearly a minute at a time.

About a year ago, a video of Sandra went viral. A caption explained that the ape had learned to wash her hands after watching zookeepers do it during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of people shared the story on social media.

But it turns out that the tale wasn’t exactly true. The ape’s handwashing was actually filmed in November 2019—before anyone knew about Covid-19.

The story is one in a long string of false or misleading claims that people have posted and shared online. Deciding what to believe can be a challenge. Here are our top tips for figuring it out.

TIP: Understand What Makes You Want to Share Shocking Content

  1. A friend shares a post that really grabs your attention. It might be the one about Sandra the orangutan washing her hands during the pandemic.

  2. You think, “This is so amazing!” Your emotions, or feelings, block out the part of your brain that might say, “Wait, is this true?” So you quickly share the post with your followers. 

  3. When your followers see the post, they have the same emotional reaction that you did. So they share it with their followers. And the cycle goes on and on.

TIP: Ask Yourself: Am I Making These Common Mistakes?

Reading Only a Headline
One recent study found that 59 percent of social media links aren’t clicked on and read before they’re shared. Don’t just believe a headline. Take time to evaluate the post.

Thinking that First Means Best
The top result in an internet search isn’t always the most reliable source of information. Companies often pay to place ads for their sites at the top of the search results page.

Not realizing you’re Seeing an Ad
Look closely at posts, videos, and articles. If you see words like “sponsored content,” “paid post,” or “presented by,” someone is trying to sell you something.

TIP: “ACT” Like a Pro

Professional fact-checkers are a lot like detectives. They learn to evaluate evidence and to be skeptical of anything that seems off. Here’s how you can “ACT” like they do:

Learn how to use those skills with this fake Instagram post.

Is this the official account of the famous technology company? Is this even its real name and logo? (Answer: No!)

Any good source would tell you that Edison DID NOT invent the phone. And a giveaway this big would be reported by respected news sites.

Spelling and grammar mistakes like these are big red flags.

Should you trust a company that asks for private information in a public post? No! This looks like a scam.

1. What was false or misleading about the video of Sandra the orangutan?

2. What are some common mistakes people make when viewing information online?

3. Why should you be skeptical when viewing posts on the internet?

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