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5 Reasons to Be More Skeptical Online

The Internet tells us that Mark Twain said, “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

This particular quote illustrates our point exactly. It’s certainly true that lies travel fast and it can take a little time for the truth to catch up. But it isn’t true that Mark Twain said anything like this. In fact, this quote (or some version of it) has been evolving for three hundred years and has been attributed to Alexander Pope, Thomas Jefferson, and Winston Churchill.

Of course, there’s plenty besides quotes that the Internet gets wrong. Here’s why it pays to be a little more skeptical online. 

Social Media Is Great at Spreading Fakery

A recent study found that senior citizens are seven times more likely than twenty-somethings to spread fake news. Why? Well, people who grew up with the Internet have a bit of an advantage in terms of understanding how digital media works and it can be manipulated. The good news is that so-called “fake news” is not as common as the real stuff. The bad news is that once it spreads through a social network, it’s hard to get to the truth. 

False Health Claims Can Be Dangerous 

Facebook and lifestyle sites are full of all kinds of health claims. At best, a dubious health claim will waste time and money. At worst, they send people to emergency rooms and prompt warnings from health authorities. Misleading health advice can be spread by people trying to sell something, people with an agenda, and even by malicious pranksters. 

There’s Money, Data, & Privacy At Stake

In the past, we’ve warned of scams aimed at teens, scams aimed at seniors, and even scams timed for the Christmas season. The first line of defence against these and all scams is a healthy dose of skepticism. Be cautious about using public WiFi, look over your email with a critical eye, and be sure to double check online forms and sites where you’re submitting information. And remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Social Media Profiles Are Made to Look Glamorous

It’s important to remember—and to remind your children—that how people present their lives social media isn’t exactly real. Or, it’s the best possible reality. It’s curated, it’s polished, and it’s made with an audience in mind. A little bit of skepticism will help you remember that your life isn’t significantly less glamorous than everyone else’s. After all, even the rich and famous use social media to make their lives seem more amazing than reality. 

A Lot of Internet Stuff Isn’t Real 

Here’s yet another reason not to bother arguing with someone on Social Media: that particular someone may be a bot. Lots of comments, likes, and shares on places like YouTube and Facebook are the work of bots or of people pretending to be multiple people. No one is really sure, but maybe around half the traffic on the Internet is fake

The Bottom Line 

Of course, to be skeptical isn’t the same thing as being cynical. The Internet isn’t some extremely dangerous or overly hostile place. We’re just saying that it’s a good idea to tread with the same caution and care as you would in the other areas of your life. We don’t believe every rumour we hear on the street, trust every folk remedy from our grandparent’s day, or trust every solicitor who rings our doorbell. So why shouldn’t we be as cautious when we’re online?