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Don't Fall for a Fake

This year's biggest social media challenge was just a trick. Here’s what you need to know to tell fun from fact.

As You Read: Think about some ways you can tell real news from fake news.

via TikTok

It started with a wild idea that someone posted online. On February 10, gravity on Earth would change. Brooms would be able to stand upright on their own for that one special day.

Soon, people all over social media were taking the “broomstick challenge.” Online videos of brooms standing up were viewed millions of times.

But the challenge was a hoax, or trick. Brooms can stand upright on any day!

The broomstick challenge was pretty harmless. But experts say it’s an example of a serious social media problem called misinformation. That’s information that is incorrect, misleading, or deceptive.

It started with a wild idea that someone shared online. On February 10, gravity on Earth would change for one day. Brooms would be able to stand on their own.

Soon, many people were taking the “broomstick challenge.” They posted videos all over social media.

But the challenge was just a hoax, or trick. It turns out brooms can always stand upright!

The broomstick challenge was harmless. But experts say it’s an example of a problem called misinformation. That’s information that is wrong or deceptive.

Why Do We Share?

Every day, countless bits of misinformation are shared on social media. They can be fake news articles posted on Twitter or phony photos on Instagram. Or maybe a YouTube video presents false information as if it’s true.

People might spread hoaxes for fun or to get likes or shares. But other times, misinformation is about important topics, like the government. The goal of these hoaxes is often to change what people think and affect how they vote.

Experts say false information is most effective when it makes you laugh or feel sad or angry. “If a post or picture or video makes the viewer feel very strongly, they are more likely to share it,” says Sierra Filucci of Common Sense Media. That group helps kids spot misinformation online.

And, Filucci says, when a post has been liked or shared a lot, people are more likely to believe it. They’re also more likely to share it without checking the facts.

A lot of misinformation is shared on social media. It can be fake news articles on Twitter. It can be a YouTube video that gives wrong information.

People often spread these hoaxes for fun. But other times, people spread hoaxes about important topics like the government. Their goal is often to change what people think and affect how they vote.

Experts say hoaxes work best when they make you laugh or feel sad or angry. “If a post or video makes the viewer feel very strongly, they are more likely to share it,” says media expert Sierra Filucci.

Filucci says that when a post has been shared a lot, people are more likely to believe it. They might share it without checking the facts.

Where to Find Fakes

With so much false information out there, it can be hard to tell what’s true and what’s not. Sometimes, the best clue is where you’re seeing it.

Think about why people use an app like TikTok. It’s probably to watch goofy dance videos, not to do research for a school project. And it’s a safe bet you wouldn’t go to a news website to find a silly photo with a funny caption.

Filucci says it’s important to be aware that different types of social media have different purposes.

“Places like TikTok or YouTube are designed to be fun and entertaining,” she says. “They’re not created to communicate accurate information like news organizations are.”

It can be hard to tell what’s true and what’s not. One clue is where you’re seeing it.

Think about why people use an app like TikTok. It’s probably to watch goofy dance videos, not to do research. And you wouldn’t go to a news website to find a silly photo.

Filucci says to remember that different types of social media have different purposes. 

“Places like TikTok or YouTube are designed to be fun and entertaining,” she says. “They’re not created to communicate accurate information like news organizations are.”

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On February 11, NASA posted the real explanation on its Twitter account.

Stop and Think

You can play a part in stopping the spread of bad information. Experts say the best way to do that is to be more skeptical of what you see online.

“If something seems really strange or really funny or too good to be true, your first step should be to evaluate it,” explains Filucci.

That means using reliable sources, such as trusted news websites or government sites, to back up what you’re seeing. If you still can’t tell if it’s true, follow Filucci’s advice: Don’t share it.

You can help stop the spread of bad information. How? Experts say the best way is to be more skeptical of what you see online.

“If something seems really strange or really funny or too good to be true, your first step should be to evaluate it,” explains Filucci.

That means checking reliable sources, such as trusted news websites or government sites. If you still can’t tell if it’s true, follow Filucci’s advice. Don’t share it.

1. What is misinformation? Include an example.

2. What are some reasons people spread hoaxes?

3. What is the purpose of the section "Stop and Think"?

1. What is misinformation? Include an example.

2. What are some reasons people spread hoaxes?

3. What is the purpose of the section "Stop and Think"?

Close-Reading Questions

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