4 Ways to Be Smart On Social Media This Holiday Season

Eat. Sleep. Scroll. Repeat.

Published Nov. 23, 2022

 (Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images

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Your stomach is full, and your eyelids are getting heavy. That post-Thanksgiving-meal contentedness is settling in.

But before you officially dose off, or maybe to put off cleaning that heaping pile of dirty dishes in your sink, you grab your phone for a casual scroll to see how others are celebrating.

That's where Snopes' expertise comes in; don't let your laziness (thanks, booze and carbs) creep into your online activity.

Be smart on social media and consider these four tips, which are based on recurring traits of misinformation, tricks, or scams:

1. Ignore posts that ask you to "copy" and "paste" a message, and then share it verbatim.

We call this type of post "copypasta." As we first explained in 2021, these types of posts often tell readers to pass along some warning or advice to help others, or an offer of free cash or merchandise — when, in fact, the messages are designed to fool or embarrass you, the sharer.

One particularly effective copypasta post that's duped numerous Facebook users over the years claims the platform will start charging people.

But, under the premise of the viral message, you can supposedly avoid the expense if you participate in the chain posting. "If you copy this to your wall your icon will turn blue and your Facebook will be free for you," the misleading message reads.

This, like many copypasta messages, is a hoax.

2. Be hesitant to click, or believe, strange ads.

During your scroll, you may come across clickbait-y advertisements that promise to reveal a "life hack" or tease a mystery, so long as you click. We explained earlier this year:

Advertising arbitrage is defined as a way to make a profit after placing an internet ad by leading readers from the ad to a multi-page article or slideshow. The main goal is to create a story that is broken up into many pages, placing ads on them and making money from the ads that appear on the many pages. [...]

Many of these ads use misinformation or misleading and disgusting pictures to lure people in. The ads range from something serious, like politics, all the way to something minor like the many purported uses of WD-40

In other words, those types of content blocks are trying to draw you in, earning your valuable click, without much in return.

Or, you may see advertisements that look like posts and are sandwiched between actual uploads from groups or people you follow.

That type of sponsored content, or native advertising, can range in terms of risk from a media-literacy standpoint; correctly labeled posts that advertise things based on your browsing history are less concerting compared to sponsored content that pushes questionable products or doesn't include a disclaimer to note who, or what, paid for the advertising space.

3. Verify unsourced messages before repeating them.

Whether a post or video is from someone you know, or a media account that seems like it could be reliable (but you're unsure), cross-check its information with a trusted source — that is, a reputable news outlet, historical archive, academic journal, public-record database, fact-checking website (wink), or other nonpartisan entity.

If an image is involved, you can use a number of tools, such as Google ImagesTinEyeYandex, and Bing Images, to see where it originated — that reverse-image searching could be useful when you're trying to determine the legitimacy of a captioned meme.

Snopes once advised readers:

If a meme, an article, or a video doesn't explicitly state where the information is coming from, that's a major red flag. A quote from a prominent personality, for example, should be published on a reliable news outlet, and referenced in the post through an external link to that news source. Scientific data should be backed up by an actual academic study or research institution. Most reputable news outlets will cite multiple sources for a story. If the story relies on anonymous sources, then it might be because the news outlet was given exclusive or classified information, or the outlet has to protect the identity of their source — most news outlets do not reveal the name of a victim of sexual assault or rape without consent, for example. Or "the anonymous" sourcing could be lazy reporting. If a claim originated from a tweet, or Facebook post, or any other social media outlet without any actual news site reporting on it, then it should be double-checked by a journalist or news outlet. [...]

If someone reports hearing a rumor from a "friend" or a "friend of a friend," always be wary. If you read a social media post that claims to know the original source, but isn't the source, then take it with a grain of salt. 

4. Be skeptical of viral videos with claims you haven't seen elsewhere.

We're looking at you, TikTok. Alongside Facebook Reels, these platforms are breeding grounds for unchecked conspiracies, or messages supposedly ringing the alarm on information that everyone should know.

But, if you're only hearing about an advisory or theory through a single video and no credible source has substantiated its assertions, odds are fairly high that the video's creator wasn't motivated by facts but rather misperceptions, gut feelings, speculation, or trickery.

That category of visual misinformation inspired these Snopes fact checks, for examples:

— Snopes' archives contributed to this report.

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.