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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Looper

I've long been an advocate of fact-checking, which is why I often am accused of being a "damn librul." Sure, I'm liberal on some matters, but I'm conservative on others; very few people are all liberal or all conservative. Facts don't have a party (but if they did, it'd be my kind of party: boring, and with little to no talk of politics).

No one, it seems, is immune from passing along hoaxes on Facebook, which is why hoaxes like the one that says Facebook changed its algorithm to limit your feed to the same 25 or so people keeps popping up and spreading. Facebook's algorithm is based on your interaction with posts; if you don't comment or like a certain person's posts, after a while, their posts will creep lower down in your feed, while posts from people you more frequently interact with will be near the top (which is why my feed is dominated by my brothers and school and work friends ... and cats).

From my observations, hyperpartisans seem to have more of a tendency to post hoaxes of a political nature, and dig in like you wouldn't believe on some of the more outlandish ones. According to yourbias.is, that would be the result of belief bias (similar to but not quite the same as confirmation bias): "If a conclusion supports your existing beliefs, you'll rationalize anything that supports it. It's difficult for us to set aside our existing beliefs to consider the true merits of an argument. In practice this means that our ideas become impervious to criticism, and are perpetually reinforced."

That digging in? It's called the backfire effect, and it's a monster. So, yeah, if your third-cousin twice-removed posts something brimming with misinformation (which might or might not be labeled as such by Facebook, as recent reports allege that an executive overruled third-party fact-checks to prevent certain outlets such as Breitbart from being deemed repeat offenders), maybe just hide/mute that post instead of wasting time and blood pressure medication trying to share facts.

Not all of the fake news shared on Facebook gets a fact-check attached to it. Here are a few of the hoaxes that have recently made the rounds:

ā€¢ Facebook prohibits posting of the Lord's Prayer (or any religious content).

This hoax has been around since at least 2014, and has been debunked repeatedly, but it keeps coming back ... like that spicy sausage you really shouldn't have eaten Saturday night. Carmel Kookogey of USA Today wrote last month: "Like most social media platforms, Facebook's community standards do not explicitly protect the Lord's Prayer, or any other specific religious text. Instead, Facebook defines prohibited speech as any 'direct attack on people based on ... religious affiliation,' among other protected characteristics. ... Moreover, many religious pages on Facebook have posted the Lord's Prayer, are titled 'The Lord's Prayer,' or exist for the purpose of praying the Lord's Prayer. Those pages continue to be live and public on Facebook."

Many of my friends' posts contain Bible verses and prayers. I even watched the sermon from my church back home on Sunday on Facebook. So much for a ban.

ā€¢ Florida reduced its covid-19 case count by 79,000 because the CDC had been counting pneumonia and flu cases as covid-19, according to a failed congressional candidate who claimed to have proof.

In an Agence France-Presse fact check, Claire Savage wrote: "'We're not combining pneumonia deaths with covid-19 deaths,' [National Center for Health Statistics] Chief of Mortality Statistics Bob Anderson told AFP over the phone. He clarified that while people can die of pneumonia they developed because of covid-19, and both illnesses would be noted on their death certificate, their deaths are only counted once, as covid-19." Of that 79,000, Anderson told FactCheck.org, "I'm not even sure where those numbers come from. They seem to have been pulled out of thin air."

Which is apparently where proof of that claim resides, as it has yet to be produced.

ā€¢ Donald Trump tweeted in 2009 that he "would never let thousands of Americans die from a pandemic while in office."

The ersatz tweet starts: "Obama's handling of this whole pandemic has been terrible! As President, ALL responsibility becomes yours during a crisis like this, whether or not you're entirely to blame." While Trump has tweeted some things that didn't age well (like that the electoral college was a disaster for democracy), he didn't tweet this, despite Facebook posts saying he did. FactCheck.org found no tweets in the Trump Twitter Archive matching that statement. It's not like it's hard to fake a tweet; there are websites that will let you do just that. This is just one more that was too good to be true.

Fear is a big part of why hoaxes have such a long life. Information is a great way to defuse that fear. Read a newspaper (like this one here), read and research beyond the headlines on Facebook and other social media, and don't fall for satire, even if it sounds like it could be real.

And hit mute on the hoaxes. It helps.

--ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“vā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“--

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com.

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