Today, fed by social media, search engine optimization, bots, ego or one-sided agendas, we as a global society are faced with overwhelming and increasing numbers of so-called fake news – real looking false stories or blog posts written solely for sensationalistic impact and deception. Driven by technology that can spread fake news around the globe at unparalleled speed, hundreds of thousands and even multi-millions of people are consuming fake news either intentionally or unintentionally.
No topic is immune from fake news, but in the final months of the last U.S. presidential election, fake news reached staggering new heights. According to a news analysis from BuzzFeedNEWS, “In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others ….”
The BuzzFeedNEWS analysis went on to say that the “20 top-performing false election stories … generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.” Compared to 7,367,000 of “the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites.”
One of the most important aspects of news consumption is to think and act like a fact checker. Sourcing Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University in Vancouver, NPR says, “…Fact-checkers read laterally – moving quickly away from the original text, opening up a series of tabs in a browser to judge the credibility of its author and the sources it cites.”
With so much fake news available, the begging question is how to see through it all? Here are five ways to get to the truth compiled by several sources:
- Be aware of politically framed content. Psychology Today says (emphasis added), “Check your biases. Does it take you less than 2 seconds to vehemently agree or disagree with an article or headline? Then it's probably framed to increase polarization. Psychological framing sets the stage for how we process information, a particular political frame can bias us from the outset! ("Crime rate highest among immigrants"). Much research shows that we selectively attend to and process information that we agree with more fluently than information we disagree with, this is also known as "confirmation or myside bias". If you find yourself strongly agreeing or disagreeing with an article within seconds, its purpose is probably to get under your skin and fuel conflict between different groups in society!”
- Look at the quotes in a story. According to NPR, “Most publications have multiple sources in each story who are professionals and have expertise in the fields they talk about. If it's a serious or controversial issue, there are more likely to be quotes — and lots of them. Look for professors or other academics who can speak to the research they've done. And if they are talking about research, look up those studies.”
- Find the original reports. Geek.com says, “Fake news doesn’t always mean false news. The bold fake news sites simply make things up out of whole cloth or take uncorroborated social media posts as truth, but more often you’ll see a story that happened but is being told to you in a very specific, misguided way. That’s why you need to drill down to the original source of the story.”
- Follow your gut. NPR, who has written much on the topic of fake news, said, “Which of these statements seems more trustworthy to you? 1) Americans are drowning in a tsunami of ignorance! There is a conspiracy at the highest levels to replace all knowledge with propaganda and disinformation. 2) A recent Stanford University report found that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers didn't understand that the phrase "sponsored content" meant "advertising." For most of the NPR audience, this shouldn't be a tough question. The first sentence is a florid, mislabeled statement of opinion with an unverifiable, overgeneralized, ideological claim ("conspiracy at the highest levels"). The second is more measured in tone and limited in scope. And, it has a link that goes straight to the original source: a press release from a reputable university.”
- Search to see if other news outlets are reporting it. Huffington Post says, “If a story looks suspicious or claims to reveal major news, search to see if other news outlets are also reporting the story. A single article from a suspicious source making a grand claim should be viewed with heavy skepticism. If no reliable news outlets are also reporting the story, then it’s very likely fake.”
It is clear media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter understand the power they wield in the distribution of fake news. Facebook indicated they plan to thin out fake news or provide ways for their community to tell the difference between fake and real news.
In a Facebook statement on fake news, Mark Zuckerberg, said, “We don't want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.”
Though fake news has always been a part of society, it today seems to be used at an ever-increasing pace. Following these five steps along with others that are available, people can see through fake news. Additionally, you can use these sources to find out if stories or topics are fake or fact: Politifact, Snopes, Media Bias/Fact Check, and Fact Check.
Of course, writers, bloggers, and journalists could all decide to write only accurate stories based on fact and using accurate sources and analysis making it easier for us all to consume ‘real news.’
Here is a cool infographic, How to Spot Fake News, from The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).