I love the Rotary 4-way test, which is intended to provide a senatorial ( as in sober second thought) lens to thought, deed and action. It goes like this:
Of the things we think, say and do:
IS IT THE TRUTH?
IS IT FAIR TO ALL CONCERNED?
WILL IT BUILD GOOD WILL AND BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
WILL IT BE BENEFICIAL TO ALL CONCERNED?
The four-way test was one of the main points of capture that motivated me to join my local Rotary Club in 2010. But perhaps you are not inclined to join a service club; that’s okay! I have good news. You can apply the four-way test to your life without becoming a Rotarian!
In fact, I’d like to strongly suggest, actually, that we all choose to use the four-way test as a pre-social-media-post filter.
Explosion of fame and notoriety brought to the kitteh population aside, sharing web content has created a significant cultural shift, changing the way news and information are disseminated. Think about how quickly we find out about a missing child, a criminal on the loose, an accident blocking highway traffic… even as recently as ten years ago, we were not privy to this kind of “real time” news. This is good!
Unfortunately, though, that same algorithms that support shareable content and permit important and timely sharing of news and information also permit sharing of “news” – in quotations because I refer to pseudo, quasi news that is actually quackish, fear-mongery, and/or sometimes even dangerous. These articles are written in news style which can give them the look of credibility, and crafted using the science of shareable content (quickly replacing SEO as the #1 way to get content viewed). Then there’s the algorithm that feeds you specific content based on what you’ve previously clicked on… anyway, without getting into a lengthy and likely half-correct explanation of how all these algorithms coordinate to lead you by the virtual nose, let’s move on to the point of this post and talk about how to determine what and what not to share in your feeds and pinboards.
Here are helpful checks and balances to go through prior to posting:
Facebook now lets you save items. This gives you the gift of time and you can be more thoughtful about what you share in your news feed. So save it, and give it some time and give it some thought. Do some research. Consider how the anti-whatever rant might be perceived by others. Will it be fair and beneficial to everyone who reads it? Will it build good will and better friendships? Is it even actually true?
2) Check yourself: Does it evoke a strong negative emotional reaction?
Consider this: if something you read makes you immediately feel angry or outraged, your objectivity may be diminished. Your judgement may be clouded. The reasonable, rational you might not be in the driver’s seat. I mean, we all love to deliver a good rant from time to time (I’m a rant superstar!), but before hitting post, try applying the four-way test. That will help you get some perspective.
3) Is the website credible?
It could be satire news. Satire news is fake news which is shocking and outrageous in nature but written as news and with enough facts to make it potentially believable. It’s like April 1st, all day, every day. It’s horrible and I hate it. It’s designed to make fools of people who are not yet jaded enough to automatically disbelieve everything they read.
Or it could be a hoax. I know plenty of my FB friends are sick and tired of me posting a link to Snopes on their posts that exposes the post as false, but really, it takes less than as minute to check the hoax busting or urban legends sites before you share something. Save yourself the embarrassment of posting untrue things.
Or it could be opinion dressed as news. Even if it is chock full of data and statistics, it could still also be chock full o’ nuts. Statistics can be manipulated or even made up. Even someone who started out with credibility, like Dr. Oz, can veer off the road, seduced by their ego and the opportunity to significantly enhance revenues.
When I see a site with which I am unfamiliar, I do some quick online research. Snopes or Urban Legends comes first. and then some general Google poking around to see what others are saying about it. Is this an organization with a political or religious or ideological agenda? Is it balanced and objective? If the site is filled with stories and posts that only tell one side of a particular issue, that lessens credibility.
4) Can you find other, mainstream, credible news sources offering the same, or similar, information?
Major news outlets such as CTV, CBC, Global, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, National Post, NPR, etc have a higher commitment to objectivity, impartiality and fairness. Of course, this said, I hesitated to even make a list, cringing t the spectre of a comment thread filled with boo hisses about the credibility of CNN, CBC, the Post or whatever… yes, yes. Okay. Maybe you don’t find those sources balanced and objective, but you must acknowledge they are a more credible, more fair source than, say, Natural News. Or any other hyper-skewed, narrow lensed, ideological fox hole site.
This point ties back to point #3. If credible journos are not reporting on it, or are saying the opposite, stop for a minute and think about how much credence you want to give to this POV by propagating it online.
5) What are the other opinions/points of view?
Even if you 100% believe an online article to be true, and even if you 100% agree with the opinions expressed, consider that thinking, discerning people are open to other ideas, positions and points of view. Try reading articles with opposing viewpoints, and really honestly consider all of the perspectives. Even if you land back with the same opinion with which you started, you’ll be better off for it because you’ve taken the time to learn with an open mind.
6) If it’s really important to you, study.
I’ve had many people try and explain their habit of inflammatory posting by telling me that they’re just really passionate about a particular topic or issue. Passion is great. But, if you are truly passionate about it, then why not invest the time in learning all the background, all the perspectives and positions, researching extensively all sides of an issue to debunk the falsehoods and validate the truisms? As with point #5, even if, after all that, you remain convinced of your position, at least it is now an informed position. And, once you are firmly established in your position, remember that the four-way test requires that even when you are hard on issues, you are soft on people.
I don’t always apply the four-way test to my own posts. I don’t always fact check. I sometimes engage my trigger finger before engaging common sense. Yup, guilty. But sure as shootin’, nearly every time I neglect those things, I get caught and called out on posting a hoax. Blah.
I’m recommitting myself today to not allowing bad information on any of my social media sites. I think the four-way test provides a really good framework through which to choose what and what not to post. I hope you’ll agree and join me.
At the very least, tell me what you think. Oh, and by the way… this post is totally shareable. Just sayin’.