The best way to avoid sharing harmful memes is to trust your instincts, LaGarde says. Ask yourself: How does this make me feel? If a meme triggers a strong reaction, especially a negative one, such as fear or anger, hold off.
“If the emotion is really intense, and especially if it causes you to feel something negative about another person or group of people, that’s a sign that should make you think, ‘Hmm, I should stay away from this,’ ” LaGarde says.
When your first reaction is to laugh, think about why. Might the meme’s creator be using humor to hide another message? One trick to figuring out a meme’s meaning is to put it in your own words, Cohen says.
When a meme includes something that sounds factual, read more about the topic from trustworthy sources. Two options are government and university websites. Then use your new knowledge to decide whether the meme seems accurate. (Just doing a search using a meme’s exact wording might pull up more content from the same creator and not necessarily the truth.)
What if you are still not sure about a meme? Err on the side of caution by not liking or sharing it, LaGarde says. “You may never be able to determine if that meme is 100 percent credible,” she explains. “But you can determine if there are too many red flags to engage with it.”
This article was updated on 8/24/2021.