Critical Thinking 101: Three super easy steps to spot poppycock on the internet.

Today it happened again.

A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

(quote not by Mark Twain, origin quite interesting)

Someone on facebook forwarded an article that was full of badly written and utterly unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about topic X. (topic X could be anything: politics, health, whatever)

To me, it was instantly clear that the article was 100%, undiluted, hogwash.

Now you probably think that I must have decades of experience separating the internet wheat from the chaff.

While that is true, you too can fortunately very quickly become a wheat-chaff-separation ninja by applying the following three super-easy steps.

1. Ensure that the site with the article is a legitimate source

This is where most people get tripped up. Someone shares something on social media, you see it, and your blood boils, so you reshare without checking.

Next time, break the cycle by quickly checking the address of the news link. This is your first line of defense.

Here are some examples to get you started:

Poppycock: naturalnews.com, worldunity.me, someconspiracy.wordpress.com, … (send me more)

Legitimate: newscientist.com, nytimes.com, theguardian.com, propublica.org

It doesn’t take much practice to spot the pattern.

If the address looks like it could be a BS source, there’s a high probability it is. Remember, we live in the age of fake news, when any idiot can and will put up a website and fill it with misleading information.

Important: Images with text on them shared on Facebook are instantly disqualified. Come on people, we can’t be that gullible!

If you’re still in doubt, continue on to the next step:

2. Search for the site and/or the article contents on Snopes and on Google

Snopes is an absolute goldmine, and it’s free for you to use, so please do.

You can search for any topic or any story, and it will immediately give you a judgement of its veracity and a complete facts-based motivation for its decision.

If you can’t find anything on Snopes, googling the name of the site, or the contents of the story will often reward you with external sources to help you decide. Remember to apply rule 1 to the external sources you find.

3. Find more external LEGITIMATE sources confirming or denying the contents of the article

If after applying steps 1 and 2 you still have some doubt, try to find more external sources, applying rule 1 to each of these of course, that confirm or deny the contents of the article.

If you can’t find any legitimate external sources, that’s usually a sign that the article under study should be flatly ignored.

PROFIT!

Only when you’ve applied all three steps, and they all have helped you to make the call that the link under study is not poppycock, only then consider sharing it with your internet friends.

Furthermore, if you see a suspicious looking article shared by any of your friends, please do gently point them at this post!

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