The internet is not a reliable source of truth. While this concept may seem obvious, if more people were aware of it, Facebook and Google would not have to remove fake news sites from their advertising algorithms. People would also not be so quick to share sensational stories, such as claims that Donald Trump is a disguised reptile or that Hillary Clinton is an android dressed in a pantsuit.
It is not necessary for things to be this way. Identifying fake news is actually quite simple – if you are aware of how to do so. This will serve as your guide to developing media literacy in the modern era.
In the process of compiling this, we consulted with two specialists in communication: Dr. Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts who created a popular list of unreliable news sources, and Alexios Mantzarlis, the director of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.
Firstly, familiarize yourself with the various forms of misleading and untrue information.
1. Fake news
2. Misleading news
These claims are the most challenging to disprove, as they frequently include a nugget of truth: a verified fact, occurrence, or statement that has been distorted or removed from its original context. Be wary of attention-grabbing headlines that lack backing evidence in the corresponding article.
3. Highly partisan news
This refers to false information that may be based on a legitimate news story but has been altered to suit a specific narrative.
The sensational or provocative titles of these articles lure you into clicking for further details – which may or may not deliver on their promises.
Reworded: This particular situation is challenging because satire does not claim to be factual and instead functions as social commentary or amusement. However, individuals who are not familiar with a satire website may mistakenly share the content as genuine news.
Next, improve your ability to verify information.
Alexios Mantzarlis teaches fact-checkers as his profession. He emphasizes the significance of maintaining a reasonable sense of doubt and taking the time to fully consider before spreading news.
“He advised CNN that if we took more time before sharing and re-tweeting content solely based on the headline, we could make progress in addressing falsehoods.”
According to Melissa Zimdars, even individuals who spend a significant amount of time on the internet are not exempt from encountering false information.
According to her interview with CNN, many believe that this mindset only pertains to the elderly. However, she argues that even young children should be educated on communication, media, and the internet. Simply being exposed to the internet does not equate to being knowledgeable about it.
To begin, here are ten inquiries you should make when something appears to be false:
Is the source of the story from an unusual URL?
According to Zimdars, websites with unusual endings such as “.co” or “.su,” or those hosted by external platforms like WordPress, should be viewed with suspicion. Certain fraudulent sites, like National Report, have names that sound legitimate but are actually quite vague, making it easy for them to deceive people on social media. For example, multiple false reports from abcnews.com.co have gained widespread attention before being proven false, including a June piece alleging that President Obama had banned the sale of assault weapons.
Is the title consistent with the content of the article?
According to Mantzarlis, one major cause of the proliferation of fake news on Facebook is that individuals are lured in by the headline and neglect to actually click on the article.
This week, multiple questionable groups shared a report about Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi. One headline declared, “Pepsi Stock Drops Due to CEO’s Statement to Trump Supporters to Find Business Elsewhere.”
The articles did not include the mentioned quote or any proof of a major decrease in Pepsi’s stock (which did not occur). Nooyi did discuss Trump’s election in a recorded statement, but was not reported as telling his supporters to find other places to do business.
Is this a new story or an old one that has been recycled?
Occasionally, valid news stories can be distorted and brought back years later to fabricate a misleading connection between events. Mantzarlis remembers a false story that referenced a genuine news article from CNNMoney.
The website Viral Liberty published an article stating that Ford shifted production of certain trucks from Mexico to Ohio due to Donald Trump winning the election. This news quickly gained attention on the internet, as it appeared to be a positive development for the American automotive sector.
In 2015, Ford relocated manufacturing from Mexico to Ohio, which was unrelated to the outcome of the election.
Can the credibility of the supporting videos or photos be confirmed?
Misleading information can be created by using photos and videos in a way that supports a false statement. In April, a video was shared by the liberal website Occupy Democrats, claiming to show a young woman being forcibly removed from a bathroom by police for not appearing feminine enough. This occurred during the peak of the HB2 “bathroom bill” debate and the article explicitly connected the two issues. The headline read, “IT BEGINS.”
Unfortunately, the video did not include a date or any proof of being filmed in North Carolina, where the controversial “bathroom bill” was being considered.
According to Snopes, the video was actually uploaded to a Facebook page in 2015, indicating that it was released before the HB2 controversy.
Are primary sources cited in the article?
Fake news is not limited to politics. Now8News is a well-known fraudulent website that specializes in bizarre news stories that frequently gain widespread attention.
According to a specific article, Coca-Cola supposedly recalled Dasani water bottles due to the discovery of a “clear parasite” in the water. A graphic image was also provided as evidence, but further research suggests that it is actually a picture of a juvenile eel.
Despite this, the article did not contain any statements or claims from a specific company. This would certainly be a significant news item. Wouldn’t Dasani or any other consumer advocacy group release statements or news releases about it? However, none can be found because the entire story is fabricated.
Are there any quotes in the story and can they be traced?
One popular meme among Liberal Facebook groups showcases a fabricated quote falsely attributed to Donald Trump, claiming it originated from a 1998 interview with People Magazine.
“I would align myself with the Republican party if I were to enter the race. In my opinion, they are the least informed group of voters in our nation. They are easily swayed by anything presented on Fox News. I am confident that even if I were to deceive them, they would still support me wholeheartedly. I have no doubt that my popularity would skyrocket.”
This claim can be disproved with a simple moment of thought: People.com’s archives do not contain this quote.
Is this the sole source reporting on the story?
During the recent election period, there were three widely circulated and completely untrue stories involving Pope Francis. According to several fake websites, the Pope supposedly endorsed three different US Presidential candidates: Bernie Sanders, as claimed by National Report and USAToday.com.co; Donald Trump, as reported by the fake news site WTOE 5 News; and Hillary Clinton, according to another fake news site KYPO6.com.
In each of these cases, subsequent reports all came back to the false ones. It is important to trace a story back to its original source. If you find yourself going in circles or if they all lead back to the same unreliable website, it is reasonable to question their validity.
Are you being hindered by your personal bias?
Zimdars and Mantzarlis both attribute the spread of fake news to confirmation bias. This is partly due to Facebook’s algorithm, which shows users more content related to their interests based on their interactions and likes.
Likewise, if you have a dislike for Donald Trump, you are more inclined to believe negative reports about him, even in the absence of supporting evidence.
According to Zimdars, we tend to seek out information that aligns with our existing beliefs. Even if we encounter information that contradicts our beliefs, we may still find ways to validate our beliefs by pointing out flaws in the information.
If you come across an unbelievable article that seems too good to be true, be careful as it may not be genuine.
Has a reputable fact-checking organization disproven it?
Were you aware of the existence of the International Fact-Checking Network, which is headed by Mantzarlis? And did you know that it has a set of principles? These principles encompass nonpartisanship and transparency, among other values. Websites such as FactCheck.org, Snopes, and Politifact adhere to this code, so if you come across a debunking on these sites, you can trust that it is accurate. The full list of principles can be found here.
Is the host included in a list of untrustworthy news sources?
“It can be challenging to differentiate between misleading news, which typically has some basis in truth, and fake news, which is completely fabricated. The well-known list curated by Zimdars includes both types, along with satirical content and websites that rely on sensational headlines. Snopes also maintains a similar list.”
Zimdars is pleased that her list has received a lot of recognition, but she warns against dismissing all of the sites as “fake.” She wants to ensure that her list does not harm the overall objective. She also notes that some of the articles about her list are just as exaggerated as the ones she is examining.