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  • Pauline Hoffmann

Can't I Just Scroll Past?

I don't think students believe me when I tell them that I learn from them. Isn't that how education should work? I teach and share information that I hope makes an impact, but then students share information with the class and me which gives me insights into behaviors and thoughts that may alter my perspective on certain topics.

I teach a social media in society and business class which focuses on using social media for good as in how can we leverage the power of social media to elicit change and promote advocacy?

Because I can't shut up about disinformation, I often discuss it whenever I can. It is more than relevant in any conversation about social media (among other things). The other day I asked the students if they felt confident enough to identify if something is disinformation or not and why they think so or not.

Nearly everyone said they thought they could identify disinformation but some said that it is getting more difficult. They thought they were decent arbiters of the truth because they are all students in a communication program. We teach them how to tell the truth, identify the truth and fact check.

Ah, fact-checking. I asked if they fact-checked what they saw online if they suspected something was amiss.


I was alarmed. I said, "You don't check to see if it's true or to see where it came from or anything like that?"


Do you share what you think might be disinformation?


What the hell do you do?

We just scroll past it and ignore it.

At first I thought, please say it isn't so. But upon further reflection I realized that they probably don't have the time or the resources or the inclination to fact check. On the bright side, they aren't sharing the information. #CareBeforeYouShare

While it's not a perfect strategy, it was a strategy that worked for them. Should I be happy with that?

Why not? They knew enough to know something seemed off and absent fact-checking - which can be time-consuming and costly, depending on how anal you are about it - they just didn't do anything.

Some may argue that we shouldn't encourage that but consider this.......I say to a student you need to do all of the following when you see something you suspect may not be true:

  • Check the author. Does that person seem credible?

  • What is the purpose of the article? Are the resources used credible? Do the authors have any ties to the funders? Who is the intended audience?

  • What is the publication and the date? Is it recent? Is the publication referenced peer-reviewed? Is information taken out of context?

  • Is the article and information in it relevant? Does it make sense?

  • Did the authors cite sources that are legit? 

  • Did you run any images or videos through Google's Reverse Image Search or other outlet?

Truth be told, I don't always do the above either and sometimes I just scroll on by. Does that make me a horrible infodemiologist? No, it makes me busy. If I stopped to check every piece of information I found to be suspect, I would have to quit both my day jobs and then this would become my day job.

[Speaking of day jobs, this is a day job for some folks and we can rely on them to fact-check for us. PolitiFact, and News Literacy Organization are just three examples of outlets you may trust to check information. There are certainly others.]

Yes, you can do the work yourself but you can also not contribute to the spread of disinformation by scrolling right by. We have to understand that people may not have the time. They may also just not want to be bothered by something they likely consider irrelevant when they are scrolling through social media. I want to see videos of dogs not conspiracy theories, for example, so I will just keep on going. Not perfect but we may just have to live with it.

But.....what do you do if you want to comment on something you see? That's tricky. You may see disinformation online and want to just scroll by but then you see that some people are commenting and sharing and believing the disinformation. Is it okay to scroll on by then?

I would argue no but read the (chat) room. Would commenting cause more harm to you than good (sadly, sometimes people are bullied or worse online for posting what they thought might be helpful info)? Do you know enough to comment and do you have the time to do the legwork to craft an informed response?

Don't add to the chaos by responding without thinking things through. Remember, we don't want to rush to judgment.

Sometimes walking away is the best thing to do.

What you shouldn't do is walk away from this newsletter or walk away from my book. You may preorder Fake News, Witch Hunts and Conspiracy Theories: an Infodemiologist's Guide to the Truth by going to my website:

Also, as subscribers to this newsletter, you will get advance notice of my upcoming online classes about identifying disinformation and talking to people who believe (including discussion of whether or not you should comment). I will also have downloadable workbooks you may use. Stay tuned.

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