Social media fact checking isn't just about saving face - how to check your social for fake info

November 21, 2019

Now 'fake news' has entered common parlance, it's hard not to wonder what is real and what isn't when it comes to what's online.

Fake news may seem a far cry from the day to day business of dealing with the locals complaining about council services or the people next door playing music too loudly, so why is it important to always fact check anything you see online on a daily basis?

Taking a social media post at face value can often have consequences that are wider than you might think. Without tone, context and an all-pervading fear of 'messing up' in the public sector space - customer contact, media or operational response - it's harder to quickly ascertain if something is with - or without - merit.

A lot can happen off the back of a single social post. Consider these;

  • My bins haven’t been collected for a week
  • My neighbours are always playing their music loudly
  • I’ve seen your care home staff abuse my parent
  • I’m going to kill myself
  • I’m going to put a bomb at the local library

All of these posts directed at us (or where we work) require some sort of action. What action you take will depend in some way on your internal policies about triaging social media and the response you give, but before you react based on what you see in front of you, it will be worth taking just a few moments to fact check the posts - and the accounts behind them.

Wait, are they actually true? Is this fact? How do you know?

Taking just a few moments to work through a list of checks can potentially save a lot of time, money and embarrassment in the long term. It's always important to react accordingly and with a small time investment, it can often result in a very different outcome, Consider taking some extra steps before sending out the cavalry.

Note: we cannot be held responsible for any of the points outlined in this article. It's based on our team experience of dealing with threats, abuse and other content online in a public sector context since social media was actively used to communicate with the public. Always be sure to follow your workplace guidelines and polices. Never break the law and never use social media for surveillance purposes as it breaches their terms and conditions.

Some questions to ask yourself;

Who are they? 

Do you have regular contact from this person and if so, is it vexatious or warranted? If they have a profile image of a person, can you be sure it's them? Take a look at their photos and see if they look authentic and in keeping with the rest of their account. Is it a long established account? Is there lots of interaction with other accounts?

Check if an image online already by using the Google reverse image search or https://www.tineye.com/

Where are they?

Don't ever go by what someone puts in their biography of their profile. Otherwise there are an awful lot people living 'on the moon' or 'down the pub'. Look at where they post from regularly. Are the photos consistent with where they say they are? Are they talking about going to places in their local area or anything that could link them to where they say they are?

What exactly are they posting?

  • People always have a unique style of communication, whether it be in the words they type, write or say. The style is always consistent and hard to emulate. Does what they are saying look out of place with anything else they have posted?
  • If it's video you can always check when it was posted and if it's legit by using this great tool https://www.invid-project.eu/tools-and-services/invid-verification-plugin/
  • Take a look at the contents of the video (if it's safe to do so). Does it look right? Are there any clues as to the location of the video such as which side traffic is driving, shop signs, street furniture, types of wall sockets, even people's clothing and hair style. Does it look like one of your citizens?
  • Are they saying things that are designed to grab your attention and be shocking? Take a look online to see if anyone else has mentioned it. If it's big, it will trend soon enough. Some simple search terms based on their location and the incident happening (or that has happened) is sure to show something that someone else has seen.
  • Is it a genuine report of concern that is simply repeating an online rumour? A good site to check is https://www.snopes.com/
  • Make a quick search of the phrase they have used to complain. Does it show up anywhere else online? Same with the email address associated with their account (if it's publicly available). A quick search online will tell you if that email address exists. Try https://email-checker.net/

Who are they associated with online?

Take a look at their connections. Are they 'real people'? It's quite often easy to spot accounts that have been created with a fake name generator. Look around a bit and see if they are interacting with people from the local area that they claim to be from. We are creatures of habit and this shines through in our social media usage.

What types of brands are they following? Are they authentic? Are they commenting on local TV shows? It's very easy to build up a picture of authenticity if you truly are a real person.

Are they reacting to anything?

Social media makes people angry. It's one of the most emotive platforms of communication that stirs up a lot of reactions. Whether you agree with what they are saying or not, it's still good to do some digging into what they could be reacting to. Is something happening that has triggered an outburst or vitriolic attack on who you represent?

It's always important to remember why people do things;

  • Some people post things online because they can. It's very easy to hide behind a computer or a phone and there is very little accountability for what we say or do online and few people would say to someone in person what they say online
  • Some people don't realise the impact of the words they put out there and think saying certain things is funny. Without context, facial expressions or tone of voice, something that was an offhand comment can become very big and real very quickly
  • Some people drink and/or take drugs. Drunk dialling, texting and posting. It happens a lot and should always be a consideration.

Assume everything is untrue until you prove otherwise. Be diligent in your checks without crossing boundaries or moving into the investigation world and always be sure to follow workplace policies and procedures.

Make sure that you respond professionally and within reasonable timeframes if you need to coax out further information, then deal with it accordingly, asking for advice where necessary.

What now?

If you are confident you have taken all the right steps and made a decision based on that, be sure to document this. Clearly state all the steps you took and why, then be sure to share them with anyone who needs to be involved with the process should any questions be asked laster down the line. This article explains Why logging your decisions is important in communications

Always ensure that what you do is in line with your own workplace policies and procedures. If this isn't currently a consideration for your management, they might be interested in our article 7 tips for writing your social media policy

Are you trained to deal with these kinds of comments? Is your team trained - legally and psychologically - to deal with these kinds of comments? Our article Keep you and your team safe from social media harm and online abuse gives some guidance.


MusterPoint is a media and social media management dashboard for the public sector. It gives audit and accountability for all communication and has tools to help in emergency management and multi-agency working.

Need to see more? Book a quick online walkthrough

MusterPoint

Latest Blogs

7 tips for preparing your comms for the holiday season

Read More

Your quick guide to purdah and social media

Read More

Get totally free use of MusterPoint for twelve months - apply now

Read More

Social media fact checking isn't just about saving face - how to check your social for fake info

Read More

How to get your emergency social media responses approved

Read More

MusterPoint quick features guide

Read More

9 Public sector problems you can solve with MusterPoint

Read More

Keep you and your team safe from social media harm and online abuse

Read More

Posting content at the right time - 5 questions to ask yourself before pressing ‘post’

Read More

What are your social media fears?

Read More

Finding influencers and advocates to help your emergency campaigns

Read More

Six things to consider when compiling media coverage and press cuttings

Read More

MusterPoint continues to support CommsCamp

Read More

5 ways social media helps public sector and emergency services communication

Read More

Why logging your decisions is important in communications

Read More