Tips for Avoiding “Fake News”

Lately, it’s hard to turn on your television or your computer without running into some mention of “fake news.” With our current political landscape being so divided, and with more sources of news available to us than ever before, at some point you are virtually guaranteed to come across content that is, to put it politely, suspect. So here are some tips to help you stay informed and avoid falling into the “fake news” trap.

Sensational Headlines (ie. “clickbait”)

Sadly, popular social media platforms like Facebook have seen a steady increase in headlines designed solely to get the reader’s attention. Often the authors of this content will receive small contributions (usually a few cents) from advertisers each time a user clicks on the page. Typically, these articles will be accompanied by a provocative or sensational picture and an enticing byline. Beware statements like “you won’t believe what happens next” or “nobody saw this coming”, etc. Remember, the important part is getting you to the page, not the page’s content, so sensational headlines are rarely a valid source of news, and should be taken with a fairly large dose of skepticism.

Satire

This one may seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised how many times a satirical article can be shared. Much like the childhood game “telephone”, the more times the content is passed along, the more difficult it can be to recognize the source. Websites like The Onion and The Borowitz Report, and television shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show are written for humor and should not be considered credible news.

Fake Web Pages/Emails Posing as Legitimate Sources

Some web pages and emails are designed to appear like real, accredited sources, such as CNN, Fox News, NBC, The New York Times, etc. Often web pages will be similar to the real site, but with small inconsistencies, such as adding a different ending to the page. example: cnn.articles.com.ru

Many of these will be fairly easy to spot, but some can be tricky. When in doubt, try to source the information using Google or other similar search tools. Looking up the author’s name or searching the article from the main site (such as cnn.com, in this example) are great ways to verify whether or not the information is legitimate.

Misleading/Overly-Biased Content

While it’s true that virtually all media outlets lean slightly to the right or to the left, most of the mainstream media is relatively non-biased. For example, Fox News prides itself on representing a more conservative audience, while MSNBC leans towards the left, but both of these organizations pride themselves on journalistic integrity and making sure that their sources are credible and citable.

This being said, it is easier than ever before to publish content to a wide audience, and not all organizations are so intent on avoiding biases and grounding their information in truth or facts. This content can be easy to spot when it differs from your point of view, but more difficult to differentiate when it falls in line with your ideas. Remember, as human beings we naturally tend to prefer content that agrees with our existing point of view.

If you start to feel suspicious of certain content, do some legwork and see if it checks out. Websites like Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, and others can be a great way to double-check content that seems suspect. Many reputable sources like NPR and The Washington Post will also offer fact-checking for important content, such as debates and political speeches, sometimes even in real time!

In Conclusion

It’s important to remain skeptical, especially when content is political. While we all have our go-to sources for information, we’re all bound to come across some questionable content from time to time. Just remember, when in doubt, it’s always wise to double-check the source. Look for citations or verifiable facts when something doesn’t look right. If you’re still stuck, ask somebody for help, such as your local librarian. Being informed is a great thing, just make sure you’re using the right information!