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ENGL 1020: Conspiracy Theories (Shifferd): Social Media

I Saw It on Social Media!


Fake news stories proliferated on social media in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Election, with users sharing and engaging with more fake news articles—created by individuals and organizations seeking to mislead the public for financial or political gain—than legitimate ones.

Social media platforms cultivate complex relationships with their users, who are both creators and consumers of content. Add integrated advertising (like sponsored posts) into the mix, and it can be daunting to figure out what's true.

Image of Abraham Lincoln with fake quote attributed to him. Don't believe everything you read on the Internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it.

Information Literacy + Social Media

Social Media + Fake News

Question mark   What is the relationship between social media and fake news?

  Checkmark Fake news spreads through sharing links on social media by individuals. Always verify and evaluate articles before posting.

Think before you link

Checkmark   Fake news is spread through fake social media accounts powered by social bots.

Question mark   What is a bot? How do bots influence social media?

A social bot is a computer algorithm that is programmed to produce content and interact with humans on social media, aiming to mimic and influence human behavior. Bots are deployed in helpful ways to automate a range of business functions, and deployed in harmful ways when when they increase the dissemination of false information.

Adapted from: Emilio Ferrara, et al. "The Rise of Social Bots." Communications Of The ACM 59, No. 7 (July 2016): 96-104.

Question mark   How do I spot a bot on social media?

Look for the following 3 identifiers:

Frequency: How often does the account in question post? How much does it post? How regularly? Is there a pattern? Is the volume of content posted beyond human capability?

Content: Can this account properly interact when contacted directly? Is the content posted consistent? Does it make sense semantically?

Social network analysis: Does this account have a diverse set of network connections? What does the network look like visualized on a map? Does this account look like it is only following other bots? Does this account interact in conversation from the margins or from the center?

Adapted from: Samuel C. Woolley, "Resource for Understanding Political Bots." A Project on Algorithms, Computational Propaganda, and Digital Politics. Last accessed on June 9, 2017.

Identifying Advertising on Facebook + Twitter

Question mark   How do you know if the content you are looking at on Facebook or Twitter is advertising? Look for clues!

Facebook will mark content filtered to you through advertising algorithms with the word SPONSORED located above it.

Twitter marks its advertising content as "Promoted Tweets." 

Question mark   Is all sponsored or promoted content filtered to you through social media intentionally false or misleading?

It's a mixed bag. It's up to you to think critically and decide for yourself. Either way, being able to identify content as advertising rather than journalism is necessary to making an informed decision.

Fake News + Facebook

While Facebook may offer the option to report fake news stories and provide a list of tips to identify fake news, we advise that you consult sources beyond Facebook for fact-checking.

Detour sign

Check mark Professional fact-checkers read laterally, meaning they initiate a new search on a separate screen to research the content of an article or website. They look beyond what is stated on "About" pages and ignore the placement of articles in search results as evidence that the top results are the best results. Fact-checking is an active process that should engage multiple sources before arriving at a decision about the reliability of news information. Therefore, it is in your best interest to move beyond Facebook when evaluating information found there.

Adapted from: Wineburg, Sam, and Sarah McGrew. "Why Students Can't Google Their Way to the Truth." Education Week. Vol. 6, no. 11 (November 2, 2016): 22, 28. .

Citing Social Media in Research

Selection of Academic Journals Covering Social Media

Subject Headings to Search

To look for books covering social media, try searching the catalog with one of these subject headings. Copy and paste them as they appear below into the subject search box: AUM Library Catalog

Social media

Social media--Social aspects

Social media--Political aspects

Computers--Social aspects


Digital communications--Social aspects

Digital media--Social aspects

Digital media--Psychological aspects

Fake news--United States

Internet--Moral and ethical aspects

Internet--Social aspects

Online social networks

Privacy, Right of

Public Figures on Social Media

Screenshot of the Twitter account of Pope Francis. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates a Twitter account has been verified.

When it comes to citing Tweets from public figures, make sure that you are citing from a verified Twitter account. The blue badge icon to the right marks verified Twitter accounts. You can learn more about Twitter verification here.

Facebook profile for Oprah Winfrey. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates a Facebook account has been verified.

Facebook uses similar badges to mark verified accounts.

Algorithms and Filter Bubbles

Eli Pariser, chief executive of, provides a simplified explanation covering how algorithms are deployed by companies to limit content in social media feeds and internet search results.

Pariser, Eli. "Beware Online 'Filter Bubbles.'" TED, filmed March 2011,

Detecting Deepfakes

Deepfakes are images and videos syntheseized by artificial intelligence or AI



Tips for detecting deepfakes: