Are things really as they seem?

Phil Bradley explores the knee jerk responses many people have to online content. They violently agree or disagree with it, repost, re-tweet or reshare it - and all without really thinking things through.

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In my Facebook timeline I saw a story that a friend had shared, which was entitled 'Café owner wins appeal after neighbour claimed smell of bacon offends muslims'. The first line of the story read "After a six month legal battle between a pair of cafe owners and their Muslim neighbour, Graham Web-Lee has been settled in the couple's favour. The complaint? The cafe produces a bacon smell that is offensive to Mr. Web-Lee."

I thought the story was a bit odd, so decided to dig into a little bit. It was  published on a website called Lionheart News on May 17th 2016  and although the site doesn’t have an 'about us' link, it’s not too difficult to work out what its particular bias is. It wasn't difficult to run a quick search on the name of the owner of the café, and the event was something that happened about six years ago. A little bit more digging in local newspaper archives showed that the neighbour, Mr Web-Lee isn't a muslim; it’s just that he told environmental services that a lot of his friends, including muslims didn’t like the smell. Councillors at Stockport Council agreed, saying that the smell from the fan was 'unacceptable on grounds of residential amenity'. The entire story has a very specific bias to it, and it appears to be recent in nature – far from the actual truth. It certainly had little, if anything to with muslims.

How can we check to make sure that the news and stories that we see are in fact accurate, and that we’re not simply perpetuating nonsense?

Check the date. Don’t simply rely on the date that you see on the webpage, since that isn’t necessarily going to be accurate. Run your own search on a name included in the news story or on the event itself. If it turns out that the original story is several years old, why has it suddenly resurfaced? Is there a particular reason why that might have been done?

The origins of the story. Again, search to see what you can find about the story. Does it come from just one site, do different sites with the same political agenda share it? Is there an unbiased resource you can use to check the validity of the data?

If there is a picture included in the story, run the image through a reverse image checker to see that the photograph is a) real and not photoshopped and b)that it relates to the person or event in the story, and hasn’t been lifted from somewhere else.

Who wrote the story? It helps to track down the original source when possible – I saw an image recently being widely shared on Facebook which purported to show the results of the recent local elections, but in actual fact it was a spoof image created by someone who wanted to make a political point.

In short, use the CRAAP test; Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose. Also make use of sites that provide you with accurate information. Always worth checking the Snopes site http://www.snopes.com/ and Hoax Slayer http://www.hoax-slayer.com/ for run of the mill stories. For more detailed information try the Full Fact website at https://fullfact.org/ for American content visit Fact check at http://www.factcheck.org The Poynter organisation at http://www.poynter.org/category/fact-checking/ or the Verification Handbook at http://verificationhandbook.com/

Above all, check yourself. I know that I have seen a good story in my timeline and gone to share it with friends – it’s only natural.

However, just take that extra couple of minutes to check. Also – and I know this won’t make you Mr or Mrs Popular, but check other stories that you see, and politely correct people. Surely, as information professionals, this is a key role, both at work and in our leisure time.