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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.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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?

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

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?

No.

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

Armed with the fact-checking pointers from the Pro-Truth Pledge website and the reasons for being alert about ‘fake news’ mentioned in the Irish Times article here are two questions for you:

  1. How would you rate the Brightworkresearch article?
  2. 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!


Here is a neat summary graphic to consult before sharing something:

Source: Wikimedia Common

19 Comments
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  • To me Brightworkresearch and the author of that article always sounded like they were on personal vendetta against SAP. Just the language used didn’t look to be from unbiased analyst.

    But everyone is an analyst this days and to stand out in a sea of “content generators” one has to be different ,  so maybe that’s their angle.

     

    • Thanks, for your feedback, Denis! I’m glad to read that the article didn’t just look very biased to me but that others share that feeling.

       

    • I feel the same way. Any valid points those articles bring quickly get drowned in the sea of misplaced anger. Must be some story there, I’m actually curious what did SAP ever do to Shaun.

  • Great blog!   I tried to read the Brightworkresearch article, but, same with Denis Konovalov , I just felt there was a lot of spite.

    As you pointed out ‘Note here that an article or site may be intentionally designed to incite anger, revulsion, or outrage.’  

    I suspect the author makes his daily bread by writing outrageous ‘analysis’ blogs and getting clicks.

    Not gonna give him the clicks.

    • Thanks, Susan! When I read the article I was wondering what grudge the author had against SAP in general or at least some people there. But, it’s almost impossible to really tell somebody’s motives just from reading what they write – unless they actually spell it out! On the other hand, I couldn’t rid myself of the strong feeling of barely hidden anger the writer seemed to have felt when penning his (hit) piece.

    • You are welcome, Bernhard! Being in touch with researchers who actually study this stuff, makes for pretty strong motives to try and make as many others as possible aware of the actual danger of accidentally helping to spread fake – or at least rather biased – “news”.

      • What I would find interesting (for a sequel?) is “what now” – alas, one might just ignore it – but then, we might want to counterfeit. I´m rather referring also to the private sphere here.

        What I usually do – in Spain – is to search if it is known to https://maldita.es/ .Sometimes, I  spread discovered fakenews activelyto my network, with reference to this site.There are also other – minor – recommendations like not to share the links -that would increase the clicks on the fake news posting, but to share a screenshot of the fakenews posting rather. Do you have similar recommendations?

        • One important thing to keep in mind is what’s called the “familiarity backfire effect” which can occur when people are not paying enough attention to what they read or hear. This is not quite as strong as thought earlier but it doesn’t hurt to avoid it regardless. On the other hand, it’s often important to mention the misinformation somehow and the recommendation is then to preceed the mention with an explicit warning like “There’s some misinformation making the rounds which states ….”. A good place to start looking into this is The Debunking Handbook which explains these things based on climate science and how to counter the misinformation about it. You can find it on Skeptical Science http://sks.to/debunk (you’ll also find links to the updates on the familiarity backfire effect there).

          And regarding the links: what I often do, is to grab the link and run it through an archival website and then share the generated link. This can then be used without giving clicks to the misinformation-spreading website and also preserves it for “posterity”.

          I’ll give writing a follow-up post about your “What now?” question some thought and may put something together in the not too distant future.

  • Hi Barbel

    I work for Brightwork Research.

    Shaun published an article on SAP layoffs and you called it fake news.

    SAP officially announced a 4,400 employee layoff in January 2019.

    That’s the news part and that’s NOT fake because the layoffs did happen.

    Perhaps you mean that Shaun’s analysis of the layoffs is fake?

    An analysis is an opinion Barbel.

    Opinions are neither fake nor authentic. It’s just an opinion.

    If you feel that an opinion is misinformed, it should be very easy for you as a subject matter expert to present a compelling correction especially that you claim that the author is not an expert in the topic of his analysis.

    If someone with no knowledge on a subject presents an incorrect opinion, especially in a technical domain like HANA and databases in general, it should be very easy for a subject matter expert like yourself to respond with a compelling counter-arguments. This is the ONLY way to stop someone from spreading FALSE INFORMATION.

    You said that you are NOT an expert in the subject. If this is the case, then you can’t logically assess if the analysis is sound or flawed. In effect, you are saying you dislike his conclusions and that makes his opinion fake!

    There’s no hate or vendetta at Brightwork Barbel.

    Brightwork is NOT a mainstream media outlet. Just like the Register and e3zine.com.

    e3zine.com is much more critical of SAP than Brightwork. Do they have a vendetta against SAP?

    There’s no longer a mass market Barbel. We have a very specific audience just like the Register and e3zine. Our audience, and customers, don’t want to read paid marketing puff pieces. They are sick of marketing content. In fact, some consider that to be the real fake news because they know it has nothing to do with reality.

    Here’s a very prominent analyst, a CTO of a major DB company, and a leading research director saying what Brightwork has been saying on HANA for years. Does the article author along with all these experts hate SAP? It’s just their opinion.

    https://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/analysis/3074393/why-sap-seems-to-be-sidelining-hana

    Brightwork typically gets hired by customers about to invest millions in SAP or Oracle. They want to know the risks and threats before they commit so they turn to us because we present them with the risks and threats. They pay us for our analysis and they make the decision for themselves. We provide something they need and can never get from SAP reps, partners, or mainstream media because all of these are paid by SAP or make money from SAP and therefore have strong financial bias.

    The right thing to do is NOT to ignore false information. As an expert in your field, you should be able to explain why the information is incorrect and provide the right information. As simple as that. If you do, I am sure the author will no longer repeat false information because that would hurt his credibility.

    If you feel that the author is in fact an expert and you are not in a position to assess or disprove his claims but you dislike his conclusions, then calling his work fake news and asking other experts to ignore it instead of correcting it is counter-productive especially to SAP customers.

    The role of the SAP community is NOT to market or promote SAP. That’s the role of SAP marketing. The role of a community is to IMPROVE SAP using feedback from the community. If the feedback is based on incorrect information, you should simply correct it and move on. If the information is correct but makes SAP look bad, you should never ignore it. You should take it back to SAP and ask them to fix the problem. That’s how you improve.

     

    Regards, Ahmed.

    • Hi Ahmed,

      thanks for chiming in and sharing your and Shaun Snapp‘s reaction.

      For starters, here is the link to Shaun‘s response to my blog post so that others can easily get to it if they are interested in reading it (not sure why you didn‘t include a link right away?).

      Then – just like Shaun in his article – you are (in my opinion) misrepresenting my blog post on at least two easy to verify counts:

      • By making it sound as if my blog post was intended as a rebuttal to Shaun‘s earlier article – which it never intended to be – as explained, I simply used his article as a case-study to run through the questions suggested in the ProTruthPledge blog post of how people can decide whether a story is worth sharing or not
      • By stating flat out that I called Shaun‘s article fake news, even though I didn‘t do that (still haven‘t made up my mind on that, actually).

      We may have to agree to disagree on our takes on my blog post – or perhaps have others chime in to share their views on how well Shaun‘s response does as a rebuttal/reply to my blog post.

      Cheers

      Bärbel

  • Hi Bärbel,

    Kudos on a great article! Unfortunately, “April fools is the only day in which people are doubting everything they read on social media”

    Thanks for sharing this,

    Lucia.

  • Thanks Barbel.

    My comment is an invitation to correct any missing/incorrect/false information not only in Shaun’s post but any article we post.

    If you simply identify the item in error and provide the correction or explanation of why the information is incorrect and the correction, that would be very helpful.

    We do allot of research, thinking, and crowd-sourcing of ideas before we post.

    This doesn’t mean we have perfect information or that everything we conclude must be right 100% of the time. We make mistakes, just like everyone else. No one is always right and every company makes mistakes from time to time. Thinking otherwise would be arrogant and dangerous.

    As you said, we can agree to disagree. We may not agree on opinions but we can easily break down an opinion into supporting evidence and provide information that lead to better conclusions.

    Ignoring incorrect information you know you can correct is not productive.

    That’s the message I wanted to deliver.

    Regards, Ahmed.

     

    • Hi Ahmed,

      not sure why that is but you don‘t seem to get that my blog post is NOT about whether or not some or all content in Shaun‘s original article is correct or not. Instead, it just made for an example to put it through the quick test suggested by the ProTruthPledge blog post via which people can decide – even without being subject matter experts – if an article found on the web is worthwhile sharing. And if it‘s shared, whether or not it mght need some caveats, questions, framing or whatever to go with it. All in the interest of not accidentally sharing questionable or even fake news on the spur of the moment, because you like the content of it, are rightously angered by it or for some other reasons.

      If you want to get feedback on the content in your’s and Shaun‘s article(s) go ahead and invite feedback in your own blog posts or discussion threads. I‘d however consider this type of discussion on my blog post to be off topic (or at least veering rather close to being off topic).

      Cheers

      Baerbel

  • Barbel, I don’t get you because you did call the article “biased”, accused Shaun of having a “grudge”, and being “angry”.

    Here are your own words:

    “I’m glad to read that the article didn’t just look very biased to me but that others share that feeling.”

    “When I read the article I was wondering what grudge the author had against SAP”

    “I couldn’t rid myself of the strong feeling of barely hidden anger the writer seemed to have felt when penning his (hit) piece.”

     

    Why would you tell me, having already said the above, that you “have NOT made up your mind about the article”?

     

    Barbel, what did you think would have happened had you said: “Ahmed, I think the article is biased, Shaun has a grudge against SAP, and the article is angry”?

     

    You already said this to others a few days ago? Why not say the same thing to me?

    Because I work for Brightwork? What does that have to do with what YOU BELIEVE?

     

    Barbel, Shaun’s views may be right or wrong.  But Shaun’s CHARACTER is always authentic.

    Authentic, the opposite of fake.