Because I subscribe to a variety of websites and have a good-sized group of Facebook friends linked more by shared love of family, motorcycles and cars than political affiliation, I run across my fair share of questionable news reports. Whether they are conspiracy theories or just scary threats to which one should pay attention, a pattern always seems to be lurking in the mist, something that should alert me to the possibility of “fake news.” I could just never spot it.
Then this week I read a terrific article by Jeannie Banks Thomas, a folklorist of all things, and a professor at Utah State University. She nails it perfectly and provides four simple questions to tip you off that you need to get your fact checker fired up. I just loved it. Here is a link to her complete article, but I describe the high points below.
She uses the acronym S.L.A.P, as in slap your forehead, something those of us from the Midwest often refer to as the Norwegian salute. You can do it, right? You hold an open palm out in front of you, then briskly move it toward your forehead. When your hand hits your forehead with a slap, you’ve done it correctly. True natives also mumble “Uff da” under their breath, which adds an air of authenticity.
Professor Thomas’s S.L.A.P. acronym is as follows:
S: Scare or Shock – Does the account attempt to scare or shock?
L: Logistics Test – Does this account rely on or involve complicated, far-fetched logistics?
A: A-List – Does this story involve celebrities or famous people? Does it have Donald Trump, George Soros, Hilary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, or Joe Biden in it?
P: Prejudice Test – Does the account demonize or portray a person or group negatively?
“YES” answers should trigger our BS detectors like a fire alarm. When that happens, do some quick research. Remember, research is not what someone posts on a message board. Research is vetted information supported with credible evidence. Professor Thomas reviewed over 50 years of legend, rumor and conspiracy theory and analyzed over 100 legends. It was during this work that these four patterns emerged. Don’t get me wrong, not everything you see which results in “yeses” to the SLAP questions is guaranteed to be bogus – just know the probability is much higher it will be, and you need to check before forwarding it along like a clueless doofus.
I love this easy tool which can help anyone quickly assess a story’s veracity. And given the amount of Norwegian blood in my veins, it’s easy for me to remember – I just salute.