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She's an expert at spotting fake news. This is what she wants you to know.

A good reminder to think twice before sharing sensational news.

She's an expert at spotting fake news. This is what she wants you to know.
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"Fake news" is more than just the phrase the president uses to brush aside stories he doesn't like. It's a real thing, and something we should all be on the lookout for.

An image of Parkland student Emma González tearing up a copy of the U.S. Constitution went viral over the weekend, sending some corners of social media into a frenzy.

There was one problem, however: It was totally fake.


The actual photo came from a Teen Vogue video shoot featuring her and some of the other Parkland students. In the real clip, González is seen tearing up a paper shooting target.

The fact-check was swift, but a lot of damage was done, as the altered image continued making the rounds.

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with someone whose job it is to spot them every day.

Managing editor Brooke Binkowski wrestles with the importance of truth and figuring out how to stop the spread of hoaxes every day for the highly trusted fact-checking website Snopes.

Brooke Binkowski. Photo courtesy of Brooke Binkowski, illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

The site, launched in 1994, began as a collection of fact-checks on some of the internet's early urban legends. Wanted to find out whether or not that story about the killer with a hook for a hand was true? Snopes had you covered. Needed to know whether your favorite brand of bubble gum is filled with spider eggs? The answer was just one click away.

In more recent years, the site has taken on more serious topics, online hoaxes, and "fake news." Did Donald Trump wade into the waters of a flooded Texas city to save two cats from drowning after Hurricane Harvey? (No.) Did Barack Obama congratulate Vladimir Putin on his 2012 electoral victory? (Yes.)

Snopes is often cited alongside FactCheck.org and PolitiFact as some of the best, most accurate, and bias-free fact-checking websites in the world, even earning it a partnership with Facebook.

Binkowski spoke with Upworthy about how to deal with increasingly sophisticated hoaxes we all encounter online (and gave us a few behind-the-scenes secrets about how the people at Snopes do what they do best).

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why does the truth matter, and what harm is there in sharing fake stories?

The truth matters because without being able to agree on the most basic facts, there is no democracy. Democracy depends on an informed, educated populace in order to survive. To actively suppress curiosity or obscure facts is to actively suppress democratic norms.

When you share fake or misleading stories, first of all, don't beat yourself up about it if you were trying not to! We all fall for it. Some of it is extremely convincing.

I strongly believe that the onus should not be on the individual to sift through all the garbage to find good, vetted news on top of every other thing they have going on in their life, as I hear many suggest — that's why journalism exists. I think people are overall extremely smart and crave information, but without vetted and transparent information, they fall for conspiracy theorizing.

That's what propaganda and disinformation seize on. If you repeat that pattern across a country, it dramatically erodes these democratic norms. Plus, have you ever tried to talk to a really entrenched conspiracy theorist?

So I would be as mindful as you can about the sources of stories and try your best not to share disinformation — and if you do, I would try to be upfront about it and delete it so that it does not spread.

Right now is a crucial time to be mindful, even though I just said the onus shouldn't be on the individual. It shouldn't, but we simply don't have enough working journalists to go around right now, because our industry has been allowed to collapse in the name of executive profit.

Illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

Can you walk us through how Snopes fact-checks a story?

We don't have any one specific way that we fact-check a story — there's no real formula for doing so. A lot of what we do is so disappointing when I describe it to people, because it's not magic. It's "just" journalism.

I try to give my writers time and space to do the research that they need to do, although sometimes it's a little difficult when we have "conspiracizing" from all sides. So sometimes, one of us will have to head to the library to pull books or go over to the local university to look through papers on campus.

A lot of the time we do old-fashioned reporting. Our staff is all over the United States and they know their stuff, so I'll take advantage of that and send them out on the field sometimes. We also, of course, know the repeat fake-news and satire offenders, so that makes it easy, because we can save a lot of time just by noting that they have an all-purpose disclaimer buried somewhere on their site. Sometimes we do photo or video forensics and FOIA requests (not that we get a lot of those answered, hahaha).

We try to be as thorough and as transparent with our work as possible, which is why we have a source list at the bottom of each page and maybe describe our methodology in a bit more detail than we should — but that's how we all roll.

Which is also why, on a side note, I find the conspiracy theories about us a bit puzzling. We're really easy to track down online, we list all our sources, and we try to be as open as humanly possible without also being boring about our methodology.

And yet people still think we're part of a grand conspiracy. I'm still waiting for my check from George Soros/the Lizard People/the Clinton Foundation, though. It's been, like, 20 years!

...OK, if you're a conspiracy theorist reading that last sentence, that's a joke. I already got my checks.

No, no, I'm sorry. I just can't stop myself.

Photo via Teen Vogue, illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

What can regular, everyday people do to avoid hoaxes and "fake news?"

My best tip that I can possible give readers is this: Disinformation and propaganda classically take hold by using emotional appeals. That is why what Cambridge Analytica did should be viewed through that lens.

One of the more sinister things that I have read that they did, in my opinion (among other things I'm sure that no one yet knows), was track people who were highly susceptible to authoritarianism, then flood them with violent imagery that was invisible to everyone else on social media, so that they were always in a state of fear and emotional arousal and highly susceptible to an authoritarian message.

That's the type of person propaganda historically targets anyway — those who feel out of step with society and have strong tendencies toward authoritarianism — but now, groups like Cambridge Analytica are doing it faster and more surgically.

If you're reading, viewing, or listening to a story that's flooding you with high emotion, negative or positive — whether it's fear, rage, schadenfreude, amusement at how gullible everyone else is — check your sources. You are being played. Do a quick search for the story, see if it has been debunked at minimum, and/or look for other sources and perspectives.

One of the most noxious things about disinformation and propaganda is that both weave some truth into their lies, which makes the lies much, much stronger.

Something I like to say about political leanings is that the right assumes it has the moral upper hand and the left assumes it has the intellectual upper hand — both are tremendous weaknesses that are easy to exploit.

Don't let yourself be exploited. Be on guard. Don't assume other people are sheep and don't assume other people are morally bankrupt. Propaganda wants you to assume the worst about your fellow denizens; the people who push it out want the basic fabric of society destroyed.

It wants you hating your lovers, your neighbors, your family members, the guy at the store, the lady at the coffee shop. Propagandists want you distrusting each other, bickering, and unable to agree on the most basic facts — because then they can exploit those cracks further and consolidate power in the process.

Don't let yourself be taken in.

The basic take-aways for the average person? Get your news from trusted sources, confirm it with a second source, check your own confirmation biases, and get familiar with reverse image search tools.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
smiling woman in gray hoodie beside smiling boy in blue and red jacket

After a year and a half of a global pandemic and domestic upheaval, most of us are feeling some variation of tired, fried, exhausted and generally done with everything. We've been swimming through choppy and uncharted waters, and even strong swimmers need a life jacket under such conditions.

We can all use an extra measure of grace and understanding as we navigate these waters, which is why this email from a professor to her English 101 class is so dang heartwarming. This message went out to students the day after their first essay was due, with the subject line, "You need a break today."

Here's what it said:

"All,

The pandemic is kicking everyone's ass. Can I say that? I don't know, but I did.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!