Think before you share


Christina Xiong

In an era where fake news abounds, we have to double check before we pass on information

By Ben Stricker

As senior Wesley Smith scrolled through his Instagram feed, he spotted a post of his friend climbing on the ledge of a gray rock — but something strange about the photo struck him immediately. In the photo, his friend was wearing a flashy orange jacket, but Smith knew that he’d edited its color, because he watched him do it; he was actually wearing a gray jacket that blended in with the color of the rock.

“He was wearing a grey jacket and obviously, it’s really hard to see him on the grey rock. In the next photo, he realized he had to change his grey jacket to orange,” Smith said. “It’s kind of spooky what you can do and people won’t notice.”

Sure, this may be a harmless Instagram post, but it relates to a growing problem in the world today: Not everything we see on social media is real and original. Frequently, social media users view doctored photos and edited videos, thinking that they’re real when they’re actually fake. This January, a “photo” of red-tinted clouds over the Australian bushfires went viral. But it wasn’t actually a photograph of the wildfires; it was a photo of a natural phenomenon that occurs when the sun sets. Also, the three of the most viral photos of the Amazon fires are from different fires entirely. In order to combat the spread of information, people should verify information before mindlessly sharing on social media.

According to Statista, 79% of Americans use social media today. With over three-quarters of the country online, news — both real and fake — is spreading faster than ever before. A 2018 study found that people were 70% more likely to retweet false news than accurate news. In the same study, accurate news took about six times as long as false news to reach 1500 people.

In an informal Black & White survey of 37 students, only 32.4% said that they always verify information in what they’re posting before they share it online. In the same survey, 75% of Whitman students said that they know someone who has posted information without verifying it.

As high schoolers using the internet and social media, we need to be more aware of what we’re reading, hearing and watching online. In a day and age where information travels faster than ever before, if we share news that isn’t wholeheartedly accurate, we spread incorrect facts to hundreds of people within minutes of posting. We have to think before we share and make sure we know all the facts.

Though false photos are common for environmental issues, they don’t stop there. In the past few years, fabrications that went viral included a doctored photo of former President Bill Clinton and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, but her face was edited to be Dr. Christina Blasey Ford’s, and a video that people thought was Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashing, but was actually a 2018 helicopter crash in the United Arab Emirates.

As technology improves, fabricated photos become more convincing. In a 2017 article, people could only identify fake photos 60% of the time, and could only spot the edited part of the photo 45% of the time.

Though telling apart real and fake is difficult, it’s in no way futile. Digital Art teacher Kristi McAleese said that though it’s easy to edit and manipulate photos, there are some strategies to tell whether a photo is real or fabricated. One of these strategies is looking for the light source in the photo: If there’s a light source coming from one direction and the image has another light source coming in from another direction, it’s most likely edited.

On top of doctoring photos, people can also use artificial intelligence to change what people say in a video — known as “deepfakes” — simply by editing the corresponding transcript. The technology’s original purpose was to edit movies, but today, it’s become easily accessible for the public, leading to more spread of misinformation.

So, before you hit the arrow icon on Instagram to post something to your story, retweet a tweet or share a Facebook post, take a few minutes to ensure that the information you’re spreading is accurate — that way, we’ll know the real news, even if it’s as simple as being aware of a photoshopped jacket.