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Internet lies: The importance of not being Morgan

  • Fake 'Morgan Freeman' quote about Newtown went viral
  • Social media fills with misinformation during breaking news
  • Six simple ways to filter the legit stuff from the nonsense
Morgan Freeman's rep says a statement attributed to the actor regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax.

Morgan Freeman probably had plenty of thoughts on the Newtown tragedy. Like any other American.

But we know now that regardless of what your best friend / hairdresser / uncle / high school math teacher posted on Facebook or Twitter yesterday, these are not them.

Nonetheless, the unsourced fire-breathing quote falsely attributed to the actor spread all over the Internet, in much the same way waves of misinformation, hoaxes and Photoshopped pictures have in the past following a major news story.

Remember Hurricane Sandy's @ComfortablySmug?

So how do you protect yourself from looking foolish online -- and unknowingly contributing to smudging someone's (say, Morgan Freeman's) reputation -- by sharing these lies? A couple tips:

Use your B.S. meter. It's a gift. You have one. We all have one. Don't waste it. If some piece of news or a photo just seems implausibly outrageous -- or even just a bit too suspect -- pause. Think before you share. You don't need to go to journalism school to learn to question information.

There are a lot of tools and tips to consider when trying to filter legit news from a hoax. But the best one is still probably just using your common sense.

What's the source? Especially in breaking news situations, information is flying at you from every angle on social media. And there is a lot of it. Best to stick to items coming from a legitimate news source, or linked back to one, on these occasions.

Your pal @BelieberXOXO2011 tweets that four monkeys and a liger have escaped from the zoo? AND SHE HAS A PHOTO?!

Do not share.

@BelieberXOXO2011 tweets that same information and links back to an article on, say, (what?). Well, feel free to pass along.

Snopes. Still. From the first chain letter it debunked for me back in 1998 ("$250 an hour to work from home?! Where do I sign up??") through today, Snopes is still the Internet's king of myth busting. Or, on occasion, myth validating. Something smell fishy about Facebook's latest privacy notice? Or that viral video of a woman being hit by a truck and walking away? Snopes.

RIP? #TBD. If news of a celebrity's death is trending on Twitter, 99 out of 100 times it is safe to assume that celebrity is still alive. This year alone, Twitter has killed Keanu Reeves, Chris Brown, Morgan Freeman (man must hate the Internet already), Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan (three times) and Cher -– among 244 others.

Be especially suspicious if the time is anywhere between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET. A nation full of just-got-home middle schoolers on Twitter is not a news source. Go somewhere else to confirm this sort of thing.

Who shared it? Also known as, "Be wary of Uncle Marvin's list of MAYAN APOCALYPSE FACTS!!!" Similar to sticking with news organizations in breaking news, you should also stick to sharing stuff from your more reliable friends or relatives. Again, especially when a major news story is unfolding.

Run it past Reddit. Now that Creepshots has been chastened, it's becoming a little easier to take Reddit seriously. Their active community of web denizens are a good place to run a potential hoax past. In fact, they're the ones who busted the fake Morgan Freeman. His alleged Newtown screed? Written by a guy named Matt in Vancouver.

And there you go. Now hopefully we can all help make the Web a slightly less fraudulent place to hang out.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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