Where do so many crazy conspiracy theories and nonsense stories originate on the internet? Click here for a good article on Sophos about the sources for a lot of insanity that seeps into social media and the rest of the web from weird fringe communities. You may not ever tiptoe into those corners of the internet, but their creepy conspiracy theories may affect you anyway. Hat tip to my friend James Hofsiss for sending me this link.

I’ve noticed for a while now that annoying calls are coming to both my home phone and my cell phone that look like local calls. Sometimes they even have the same exchange numbers as my phone (those first three numbers after the area code)–unusual because not even my other local friends have the same exchange numbers, so now I don’t even answer a number that looks too much like my own number. One day I also had a woman call and say she was returning a call that had come from my number–after I hung up I suspected she had been called by someone else faking my number, so I did a little internet research and found this page from the FTC about how scammers can fake caller ID info. If you’ve been getting calls that look a lot like your number, you are not alone. It’s a new scam and it’s dangerous for people who assume they are real local numbers and pick up expecting it to be a neighbor or local business or organization. The link has tips for handling these calls. Please share this info with friends and family who might be vulnerable to falling for scam calls.

Another thing you need to know is about a new scam where you get a call about an iCloud breach. I learned about this today when I got a call on my landline. The name said Apple Inc. and the phone number had my same area code. I answered out of curiosity and heard a recording telling me that my data was exposed in an iCloud breach and I needed to call a number (the number started with 833) or I could hold to talk to someone before I used any of my Apple products. (I don’t remember verbatim what was said, but that was the gist.) This annoying call came 5 times today (and left voicemails, which scam callers don’t always do) before I had the time to get on the phone company’s website and block the number. As soon as I heard the first call, I was skeptical (I mean, of course, that’s just how I am). So I got online and just googled “Apple iCloud phishing calls” and found this helpful article from MacWorld.  It explains that it is indeed just a scam and some tips for how you can tell it’s a fraud (some of the same things were red flags for me and some was just my skeptical instinct).

There’s more than just fake news out there, there are also Twitter bots and fake product reviews. I have a couple links to help with both of these.

First, if you see a suspicious Twitter account (suspicious maybe because all it does is post weird political memes 24/7, for example), you can check it at Botometer. It can tell you how probable it is that a particular account is a bot rather than a fellow human. It can also check followers (of your own or another account) to see which might be more likely to be bots. I don’t know how practical it is for large-scale bot-detecting, but it’s a fun little tool if you see an account you think might be fake.

Another handy website is Fakespot. Fakespot can tell you how reliable the reviews for a particular product is. It covers Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the Apple App store. So, for instance, if you are searching for bluetooth headphones on Amazon, you might, like me, sort the results by the highest rating. Then the top of the list is a brand you’ve never heard of, so you can plug it into Fakespot and find out if those reviews are really reliable. If it looks like the assessment below, then you know you probably need to keep looking:

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I’ve noticed that electronics (especially those with brand names I’ve never heard in my life) are especially notorious for fake reviews.

If you see results more like this, though, you know the reviews are more legit:

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To learn more about how it works, check out their About Us page.

 

It’s truly disgusting that people will make up hoaxes on the heels of a horrible tragedy, but it happens.  Here’s one link from BuzzFeed with many hoaxes that already popped up in the wake of yesterday’s shooting in Las Vegas. You can see from this list (if you can bear to look at it) that these lies can be dangerous–people yesterday were accusing innocent people of being the shooter. Angry vigilantes might not see the correction soon enough and go after someone completely innocent.

And here is a link with info about Las Vegas shooting hoaxes and how to avoid spreading misinformation like this yourself (with tips much like what I’ve shared–no matter the source of information, the ways to check are the same).

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but experts are doubtful (and ISIS has made false claims before–big surprise–murderers also lie)  so I’m skeptical of this claim until we learn more. I’ve seen that it’s very possibly a false claim from multiple reliable sources.

Finally, here’s an excellent article on how to spot lies on social media after a mass shooting. Do a very little homework and you can avoid adding to the spread of lies.

Always check your sources–random Twitter accounts are not good sources. Many sites that claim to be news sources are not good sources. Check MediaBiasFactCheck.com for some help with discerning what are good sources or you can do like some of my friends do and ask me about a story you’re not sure about–if I have time I’ll help check. I’m lainiefig on Twitter. Please let friends know if they are spreading misinformation. It’s obvious Facebook and Twitter can’t catch it all.

Do you ever wonder why I get so passionate about fake news stories, false memes, bad science, and myths? Sometimes I hear statements like, “Well, it definitely could be true.” Or “Even if it’s not true it’s a good story.”  NOPE.  First of all, truth matters. Facts matter. I find it upsetting to see people spreading false stories either from the right or the left. Of course, I have a bias, but I will fact check anyone, even if they might share my general bias (my friends can attest to this).

Second of all, fake news can have horrible consequences. There’s a story about that in today’s The Daily podcast, which is produced by the New York Times. It’s a fascinating and disturbing story of one fake news story and its awful consequences. It is important to check your sources and be careful what information you spread. This story shows why. Click here for the story from The Daily.

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It should come as no surprise that in addition to my interest in fact checking, I’m a big fan of science. I trust the scientific method, as long as it’s used properly and tested and backed up by further study. I highly recommend the podcast “Science Vs”. Each episode takes on a new (often controversial) subject and goes into the science about it, but on a level a layperson can understand.

Two recent ones I found very helpful were “Detoxing and cleanses – Do they work?” and “Vaccines – Are they safe?”.

Never ask me if I am interested in trying a cleanse. Last time I tried one I ended up puking on the floor. And the science just doesn’t hold up. (Check the podcast above.)  Also, I keep my kids fully vaccinated. Whatever minimal risks there are (and they are extremely minimal), it’s nothing to the dangers of whooping cough or measles. It’s also insulting to the parents of kids with special needs to imply that it’s better to risk your kids die of a horrible disease than possibly have autism (and there is NO LINK between autism and vaccines anyway–that is debunked).

 

Another problem on the internet (and beyond) is the existence of so-called think tanks and research organizations that don’t do actual bonafide and tested research or follow the scientific method, but instead arrange “evidence” that backs up the ideas they want to promote. Then politicians, unethical journalists, and others use their work to prop up their own ideas.

Here’s a good article from Wired about this.

One organization I’ve seen lately is the American College of Pediatricians–not to be confused with the legit American Academy of Pediatrics, which props up ideas for anti-LGBT  groups. Here’s an article from Psychology Today about them and another from Patheos.  They are extensively cited by groups listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They should not be confused with the AAP if you see them mentioned online.

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  1. Amara Organics doesn’t sound like a site for a big TV scoop.
  2. It’s both a sponsored post and has a sensationalist headline.
  3. You can do a news search for Lena Headey and see no news like this from any other source.
  4. All of the above.

 

Yep, it’s #4. I didn’t bother giving them a click and my bullshit radar was pinging like crazy at first glance. Yet, they have over 1,600 reactions, 107 shares, and many, many comments (some of which also proclaim it as B.S., at least). There are probably even more by now–I took this screenshot this around noon.

Sure, it’s not that important, but just goes to show how easily a clickbait fake news headline will spread. It’s effective and that’s why even some marketers are using the technique (although I hope it backfires and people are irritated like I am–I will never knowingly buy from this company after seeing this). If they will lie about this, I couldn’t trust anything they claim about their products.

Fork lightning striking down during summer storm
This info is late for those who were affected by Harvey and now Irma, but there are already more hurricanes in the Atlantic, so here are some myths about preparing for hurricanes and info from FEMA.

Here’s an article from the Miami Herald about a few myths. I totally remember the window taping and cracking windows from my time living in Houston. Also, I lived here in New York state during Irene and Sandy, and while we had flashlights, we also used plenty of candles–not the safest choice in a house with kids.

Here is more info from the Tampa Bay Times. I have seen a meme going around a lot about storing valuables in the dishwasher because it’s waterproof–think again. It’s only waterproof from the spray inside–not from forceful waters coming from outside.

And here’s a really important link from FEMA addressing a number of rumors and scams related to disasters. Please share this link widely–much better than sharing random internet rumors and anonymous memes.

Here is an amazing PDF of guidelines for how to evaluate information using the CRAAP test.

Currency: The timeliness of the information
Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs
Authority: The source of the information
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content
Purpose: The reason the information exists

You can click the link at the top for more explanation, of course. You can also watch a video here:


Credit to Raritan Valley Community College’s Evelyn S. Field Library.