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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 an orangutan named Sandra. She uses a brush and a bucket of soapy water to scrub her long fingers for nearly a minute at a time. 

About a year ago, a video of Sandra went viral. It included a caption explaining that the ape had learned to wash her hands after seeing zookeepers do it so many times during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of people shared the story on social media. 

But it turns out that the tale of Sandra wasn’t exactly true. Her handwashing was actually filmed in November 2019—before anyone knew about the coronavirus. 

The story is another in a long string of false or misleading information 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, such as the one about how Sandra the orangutan learned to wash her hands during the pandemic.

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

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

The Fix 
Make sure you aren’t reacting only on emotion. Before you share something, wait 30 seconds. Ask yourself, “Do I know this is real?” If the answer is no, don’t hit “share” until you’ve done some research. (More on that on the next page!)

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

Reading Only a Headline 
A study by Columbia University 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 story first.

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,” #ad, “paid post,” or “presented by,” someone is trying to sell you something.

TIP: Act Like a Pro

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

  • Ask who made the post, video, or website.
  • Check multiple sources.
  • Take a closer look.

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 certainly be reported by respected news sites.

Spelling and grammar mistakes are big red flags. 

Should you trust a company that asks for private information in a public post? No! This looks like a scam to get people to share personal info. 

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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