I frequently see a great deal of misinformation on social media. I know, everyone does, but when it’s something shared by a friend, I feel a sense of responsibility to offer a correction. Should I do this publicly, privately, or not bother?
If only there were a clear-cut way to make the distinctions between fact, fiction, public, private, right, wrong, and on and on. Social media continues to make many of these dichotomies murkier than ever, and it’s a sad and accurate assessment to say that you’re facing an extremely common dilemma.
If someone you know is posting something that is offensive or wrong in a way that causes public harm (think hate speech and conspiracy theories), you have three basic options. 1) You can comment publicly that something is untrue and harmful so that anyone else who sees the post will see your good citizenship publicly and possibly feel a sense of camaraderie and/or justice. 2) If you think you have a relationship with this person worth salvaging, you can message them privately and say you were disturbed by their post and would like to talk about it. 3) You can block the person so that you don’t see future posts of this nature (or consider reporting their profile, depending on the severity). None of these are objectively better than any other, but rather represent different approaches to social media engagement.
If someone you know has posted something that is untrue but without great public harm, for example, a misattributed quote or an incorrect fact that doesn’t have broad implications, you can find a reputable source for refuting their post and drop it in the comments. If you don’t want to embarrass them or engage publicly, you can send a private message with that information, along with a note that says something like, “I thought you might want to remove your post since it seems not to be true based on this link.”
As frustrating as this might be, I suspect posts in this second category are so rampant that it would be a full-time occupation for you to try to fact-check all of them. Maybe allow yourself a quota of one correction a day, and for everything else, plan to let it go. If you find that posts in that first category are equally rampant, you may want to take a hard look at your friends, your social media settings, and your entire engagement with any particular platform.
If you can find a corner of the internet that makes you feel good and provides you with positive connections, great! But if not, consider taking a step away not just from offering corrections but from the entire endeavor. A step back doesn’t have to be forever, but a break from social media might help you categorize how much time it’s taking for you to offer corrections or even just contemplate if and how you should. You may find that a little space is what you need to gain the perspective to decide how to respond in the future.