- Even when a source looks good, you have to click through and see the full context.
- Part of that context is the date published.
- Old articles might have outdated information, or might give a false impression if read as breaking news.
- Ideally, unless it was shared with you by someone who is known to be careful in checking these things, don’t share media or stories unless you know the date they were produced.
So time for another skill. And this one’s dirt simple.
I want you… to check the date.
That’s it. As they say, that’s it, that’s the tweet.
This may sound amazingly simple, but again, you have to trust me. People don’t do it. Tragedy results.
Here, let’s look at an example. Here’s a story that says that the new flu is “unstoppable”. Now I want to be clear. It’s highly likely by the time you read this that the COVID-19 outbreak will be unstoppable. If you are reading this any time in March 2020, I’m almost certain of it. But at least at this moment, the 21st of February, most experts think there is at least a small (vanishingly small, but possible) chance of containment.
So “New Flu Unstoppable” today, February 21st, that would be a big story. Especially coming from the World Health Organization, the sort of professional consensus organization you want to look to in these cases.
What’s more, when we click the little “i” icon on Facebook we find out the reporting source here is rock solid. It’s Reuters, one of the most reputable news organizations around, and a particular good source for international news.
So what’s up here. If we’re eagle-eyed we may have already caught it. This is an update about the H1N1 flu, back in 2009!
Here, let’s do the check, by tracing the story back to its original context.
Dates are the simplest piece of surrounding context of a story, because when the story is from makes a lot of difference. Hearing Hillary Clinton is planning to run for President in 2020 is a very different thing than hearing she plans to run in 2016.
Often date-hacking is used in the service of conspiracy theorizing. As an example, imagine seeing this story floating around right now:
And yet, when we check the date, it becomes apparent that the story is not related to our current crisis:
Date-hacking is not the most common form of disinformation, but it can be a particularly effective technique, because it allows people trying to trick you to use very prestigious sources. You feel safe because you’re circulating a known source. A more common occurrence — usually misinformation more than disinformation — is the circulating of out of date information. In either case, the solution is simple: check the date!