• If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Take the time to investigate outlandish claims.
• Don’t rush into making a decision — take the time to ask questions and gather information.
• Be immediately suspicious if you are contacted out of the blue.
• Know who you’re dealing with.
All of those are common, familiar reminders — they’re ways to avoid becoming the victim of a scam. Such encouragements have always been useful, likely going back to the days when three-card monte was the most advanced confidence game one might encounter. But in this day and age of internet-based deception, and never-ending reminders of it, most of us could make a list like this off the top of our heads. They all add up to the need for healthy skepticism.
Another good, oft-repeated reminder, and perhaps the most important: Always be alert to the fact that scammers are on the prowl — know that scams exist.
What strikes me about this list of warnings, which could certainly be longer, is that with minor tweaks it could be a primer for approaching misinformation passed off as news online, especially on social media. For a brief moment in time, before the phrase was co-opted and turned on mainstream media by politicians, everyone knew that when you said “fake news,” this was the stuff you were talking about.
It still is the fake news, and as we were reminded again this past week, it’s still out there, still actively being disseminated in an attempt to deceive — and still being brought to us, apparently, courtesy of Russians.
Russia — and Facebook, which this week announced it had discovered yet another “covert campaign” to sow discord in the U.S. by spreading divisive political messages on its social network. Pages and accounts were removed from Facebook, “because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” according to a statement from the company, which likened the activity to that perpetrated by Russians during the last presidential election, though the source is still being investigated.
It’s little wonder Facebook has become the go-to vehicle for the Russians and anyone else looking to influence U.S. public opinion. It’s a remarkably effective way to spread information. The RDR, like most newspapers, has its own Facebook account that allows us to post links to our website and get information out quickly. If you use Facebook personally — and you likely do — you understand fully its usefulness. The social network does work.
It’s also little wonder Facebook has been such easy pickings, as historically it’s been wide open to any sort of content, no matter how disturbing, including violent crimes live-streamed across the platform. It wasn’t until outrage over various data-mining efforts compromising users’ personal information that the company finally began to sound serious about self-policing content.
And maybe the company is serious — some praised Facebook after its admission last week, and its recent historic stock price drop has no doubt been a wake-up call.
I’m not tech-savvy enough to expound on whether it’s possible for Facebook to effectively self-police content, but my layman’s guess would be no, that’s not even remotely possible. For all of who consume news online, that’s certainly the only safe thing to assume, which means the scam warnings listed above will remain relevant.
“Take the time to investigate outlandish claims” is a good one — unfortunately, outlandish claims abound online, research takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day.
Perhaps the most appropriate and realistic is simply, “Know that scams exist” — view news and information on social media, political content especially, with healthy skepticism.
And of course, “Know who you’re dealing with.” Behind every post, there’s someone or something. Do you know them/it? Trust them/it?
The news and information sources you do know and have come to trust have more value today than they ever have.
And those won’t require you to apply the same checklist of warnings you would if news of a large, unexpected inheritance from a relative you’ve never heard of makes it past your spam filter.
John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.