Think before you share: how to tell truth from farce on social media

Viral rumors are dispensed as fact before they can be dismissed as fiction

Author: Lauren Sweeney, Special Projects Producer, lsweeney@clickorlando.com
Published On: Feb 12 2014 06:13:10 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 12 2014 11:00:00 PM EST
man looking at computer screen
ORLANDO, Fla. -

Did you hear that Jenny McCarthy's son never really had autism?

What about the guy who sued his wife in China after they had an ugly baby?

More recently, maybe you heard how the the technician responsible for the Olympic ring malfunction was found murdered.

What these stories all have in common is that none of them are true. When they are shared on social media by sometimes tens of thousands, it can be damaging to a person or organizations reputation.

[WEB EXTRA: Salvation Army fights back]

Over the holidays, blog posts that encouraged the charitable to 'boycott the Salvation Army red kettles' were popping up all over Facebook. The articles claimed and cited examples of the Salvation Army's supposed discrimination against homosexual individuals.

At the Salvation Army in Orlando, hundreds of homeless and needy are given food and shelter on a daily basis. The area commander there says it does not matter what their sexual orientation is, they open their doors to everyone.

"My staff I don't think would even blink an eye if someone walked in that was gay or otherwise, we are in the business of helping people, no matter where they come from," said Major Mark Woodcock.

Woodcock explained that as a Christian organization their belief system does not agree with homosexuality and believes in marriage between one man and one woman.

But, he urged that their belief system does not equate to discrimination in any sense.

"It really disturbs me when someone says you discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals because that's just not the truth," he said.

The accusations began circulating after an Australian radio interview in 2012.

In the interview the host asks an Aussie Salvation Army spokesperson about a Bible verse in the charity's handbook.

The verse which was taken from Romans 1 18:32, deals with homosexuality and ends by saying, "Those who do such things should be put to death."

The Salvation Army official responds by saying that the scripture is part of their belief system.

Woodcock was not the official interview, but he contended that the verse and interview had been taken out of context.

"If you want to sort of cut and paste the Bible I guess you can come up with anything that you want," he said.

Woodcock explained that the verse describes the wages of sin being a spiritual death, but in further scripture that is taught and practiced by the Salvation Army it talks about the grace and mercy of God.

"Whether that grace is to a gay person, or to a person who has hatred in their heart or to the person who has done the most horrific thing in their life, that grace extends to them," he said.

Professional fact-checkers see interviews, quotes and stories being taken out of context all the time.

"Sometimes there's a grain of truth to it, but when you really kind of dig into layer and layer you find there are a lot of things wrong with these memes or internet postings that are flying around," said Aaron Sharockman, the editor of PunditFact.

PunditFact is a spin-off of the Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact, which fact checks hundreds of Facebook memes, internet postings and pundit sound bytes.

Sharockman said the first thing they do when they get a claim that is flying around the Internet, is put it into Google and see what else comes up.

A lot of times, another story will already be circulating debunking the claim.

The original source of the information is also a good place to start if you dispute the validity.

For instance, the story circulating about Jenny McCarthy's son was posted on a blog site called "the Sports pig's blog." The article linked back to a 2010 Time Magazine article about McCarthy. However, the former playmate never said any of the things that the blog reported her saying.

At Pundit Fact and PoltiFact the journalists will often reach out to the sources of the information and try to verify or find out where it came from. Sharockman said that is one of the best indicators on whether or not it is true, because most of the time when it's a fake the people don't reply or they can't even find out who the person is originally responsible for posting it.

He encourages everyone to have a little fact-checker in them before blindly sharing posts.

"Sure it's easier to share and it's easier to share your opinions but make your opinions s based on sound evidence," he said.