How to avoid accidentally spreading ‘fake news’ when sharing links on SAP Community
In this age of ‘fake news’, which so easily spreads thanks to social media and other outlets, I thought it might be worthwhile to share some resources and pointers of how to avoid accidentally contributing to this epidemic.
What prompted this blog post?
A couple of days ago, I happened upon a new comment posted on Paul Hardy‘s Reasons not to Move to S/4 HANA blog post. The comment links to an article written by Shaun Snapp about SAP’s Layoffs and a Brightwork warning on HANA which I then read. While doing so, I had some ‘warning flags’ go off in my mind as it contained rather emotive language and at least some of the paragraphs read a lot like conspiracy theories.
Before I could put my gut feeling into words, Paul had already responded mentioning some of the items I had noticed as well:
“If the articles that Shaun writes were true then everyone who works with SAP should be very worried. However, not everything on the internet is true, as we know.
As it is, the articles read rather like a conspiracy theory i.e. “I am the only one in the world telling the truth, every single other person on the planet are conspiring together to hide the truth”.
He has been predicting things for many years that keep not happening e.g. SAP ditching HANA, which is rather like the people who keep predicting the end of the world and when it doesn’t happen on the target day, they set a new date.
Some of the accusations are contradictory – for example he both accuses Hasso Plattrner of designing a rubbish database and at the same time claims Hasso did not design it all, but acquired it from a mysterious un-named company.”
On my own, I cannot really verify how much – if any – truth is actually contained in Shaun Snapp’s article, but just going by the language and emotiveness I would bet on “not really much” being the correct assessment.
How can ‘fake news’ or misinformation be identified?
Through my involvement with climate science and the misinformation (aka ‘fake news’) spread in that particular topic area, I’m in touch with researchers who study this very topic. Underestimating the importance to not fall for and accidentally spread ‘fake news’ is not really possible, so here are some pointers of how to verify the credibility of sources and/or articles before sharing them. The information below is from the blog post Threading the Fact-Checking Needle on the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP) website, using Shaun Snapp’s article as a case study.
Is the article timely?
For the article in question, this one can be answered “Yes” as it uses the recent layoffs from SAP as the hook.
From the PTP-blog:
“Many items may be interesting but if they’re more than a few months old, chances are most of those with whom you would share have moved on to other news. It’s generally best to give these a pass.”
Is it published on a site generally agreed to be accurate, precise and reputed for its integrity?
I wasn’t able to find any “credibility” analysis for Shaun Snapp’s Brightworkresearch website, so cannot really answer this with a “Yes”. Even though Shaun Snapp regularly refers to “we” in the article or the tweets shown in the sidebar, I’m not really sure that Brightworkresearch is actually more than a one-man-endeavor (anybody know for sure?).
Does it appear to be an opinion piece or a factual narrative?
Due to the rather emotive language it reads more like an opinion piece to me. Something the author seems to want to hide by calling his website “Brightworkresearch“.
From the PTP-blog:
“If it’s an op-ed and you choose to share, you probably want to add a comment to that effect when sharing, as well as clarifying what you believe about the op-ed: do you agree with it, disagree with it, or agree with some parts, and disagree with others.”
Does it make any absolute or outrageous claims?
I’d put the conspiracy minded claims of how HANA got created and referring to it as “fake innovation” into the “outrageous claims” category.
From the PTP-blog:
“Here, you’re looking for trigger words or phrases like “always”, “never”, “everyone”, “no one”, or “all the time.” These are red flags for claims that are likely to be, at least to some degree, wrong. Rarely is truth absolute enough to hold in every case or falsehood so absolute as to be false in every instance.
If your answer is yes, then it’s probably best to pass on sharing.”
Does the article please you?
From the PTP-blog:
“If so, it may be playing to your subconscious biases. Make extra efforts to check if it is true.”
Does it make you angry?
No. As mentioned at the beginning, it made me wonder how factual it actually is.
From the PTP-blog:
“Try to determine why. It may simply be that your anger is being triggered by an “uncomfortable truth”.
In either case, any article that stirs strong emotions (positive or negative) needs checking – as the emotions themselves may lead you to share as a result of your own biases.
Note here that an article or site may be intentionally designed to incite anger, revulsion, or outrage. The aim isn’t clarity or edification but rather to get your goat, basically a form of trolling. If this appears to be the case then you can safely ignore it. It’s simply not worth your time.”
More questions to ask and answer (from the PTP-blog):
- Does the text support the title?
- Are there any actual facts cited within it?
- Are they well-supported?
- If so, how reliable are those sources and can you trace them back to original articles or studies?
Judging from Paul’s reaction, at least some of the claims made in the article can be easily falsified, making them not really “well-supported”:
“In addition some of the “facts” can be checked against reality e.g. the claim that an in-memory HANA database runs just the same speed or slower than a traditional disk based one. There are many organisations out there that have moved to a HANA database and they have all seen improvements, albeit not the over-stated claims made by SAP marketing, but improvements nonetheless.
In regard to pushing code down to the database, once again, it is possible to verify this by doing an experiment where you write two versions of a query, one with code pushdown, and one without, and see which runs faster. Then it becomes a straight yes/no rather than a matter of guesswork and speculation.”
Why is it important to be able to judge the credibility of an article before sharing it?
This is where the Irish Times article Combating ‘fake news’: The 21st century civic duty which actually prompted me to write this blog post, comes in. As the authors of the article, Stephan Lewandowsky (link to an interview about fake news) and Joe Lynam, put it:
“But truth is under threat, thanks to the practitioners of disinformation and the four D’s of deception: distort, distract, dismay and dismiss.”
“This never-ending flow of distraction, distortion, dismissal and dismay creates the fifth and most consequential D: Doubt. Doubt in our newspapers, doubt in our governments, doubt in our experts and doubt in the truth itself.”
“The 21st century equivalent of clearing snow from the path of your elderly neighbour should be preventing your neighbour believing (and spreading or sharing) every outraged headline.”
“This new civic duty becomes more urgent every day. False information spreads faster on Twitter than the truth. But information does not spread by itself, it requires people to spread it. So before sharing anything on social media, do some fact-checking.”
Over to you
- How would you rate the Brightworkresearch article?
- Do you have other examples of articles which perhaps shouldn’t have been shared on SAP Community for the given reasons?
I’m looking forward to reading your comments!
Update June 9, 2019 to clarify what prompted this post: it was the tone of Shaun Snapp’s article and not the content. Consequently, my case study above was triggered by and is about how his article came across for me based on the tone and not about what was written. Some reactions I saw here and elsewhere indicate that this perhaps wasn’t clearly enough spelled out, which is why I decided to post this update.
Here is a neat summary graphic to consult before sharing something:
Source: Wikimedia Common