Fake News. Misinformation. Propaganda. There are a lot of names for the false and misleading information that has been flying around lately.
During the election fake news sites got more engagement than all real news combined.
It’s easy for people to get confused. Some of these news sites are created as propaganda, to push extremist agendas and are intended to leave out facts. A example of this would be websites and memes put out by White Nationalist groups such as Neo-Nazis or the KKK.
Some are actually created to troll, and make a mockery of the people who think it’s true. However, as time goes on, and more people begin to think those things are true, that trolling becomes harmful. A good example of this would be the “Pizzagate” conspiracy/hoax which was actually created as a joke by someone on the Left, but led to someone who believed in it shooting up a Washington D.C. pizza parlor.
Some are simply well-intentioned news establishments who haven’t done enough fact checking, don’t have enough humans on staff anymore to do true investigative journalism and instead rely on shortcuts, which leads to stories full of errors.
So, what can we do to stop fake news?
- Subscribe to real Publications and Journalists!
“Facebook is a mix of really healthy news, really unhealthy news, and garbage, Don’t be too quick to share things that seem too perfect, that seem to be exactly proving that someone is the good guy or someone is the bad guy.” -Joshua Benton, journalist
Real investigative journalism takes effort. It takes time, and work. If we don’t show publications that we would rather have well-thought out pieces, they’ll stop creating them. In this case, we have a lot of power as the consumer.
From Bitch Media:
“That means supporting the media outlets that are doing meaningful, real work, too, which means, you know, subscribing or donating to support good work. The flashy, sensational news networks have no trouble getting money to support their commentary from advertisers.”
2. Diversify your Media!
Carlos Maza of Media Matters for America says:
“A good media diet is full of original reporting and fact-based reporting with less of the stuff of most cable news channels: the pundit commentary. You should always avoid media that prioritizes commentary and reactions over investigative journalism and in-depth reporting. That creates news that is heavily reliant on partisan commentary that is often divorced from facts and just is, in terms of nutritional value, doesn’t lend to a typical civilian about what’s right and wrong.”
3. Take Time Between News Stories
We need to become our own fact-checkers. When you open up a story to read it in your browser or on your mobile, make sure that you don’t hit “share” immediately afterward. Make sure you don’t go straight to another story after.
“You’ll isolate a claim that has something that can be objectively verified, you will seek the best primary sources in that topic. Find whether they match or refute or prove the claim being made, and then present with all limitations the data and what the data says about the claim being made.”
So what does that mean for the non-professional?
- Check quotes.
Are there quotes? If not, it may not be a reputable sources. If there are quotes, who said them? Were they taken out of context?
- Do a reverse image check.
If images were used, check to make sure they are actually images of what the story is talking about. For example if the story is about a drone strike, and there are photos of bodies, are those actually bodies of the drone strike or are they actually from the Invasion of Iraq or people dying of malaria?
- Dare to read the comments.
With so much click-baity, inflammatory, and false news flooding social media, often a quick check to the comments will show people who have tried to call an article out for being false. This may not be a good idea if it’s a subject you know nothing about, because the comments can also be a place to propagate false ideas, but if you already have some ideas about the issue, you can check and see if others had noticed anything you have have missed on a first read. It can sometimes be a good place to start.
- Look at the Website
Check the About Us section, and check for any Disclaimers or other information on the website the news article is from that might give any clues who is writing it, if they have any biases, or any kind of agenda. The About Us section is a god place to start searching for a Mission Statement and Code of Ethics.
- Watch out for Sneaky URLs
Well established news organizations usually have their own domains, but misinformation sites will often try to copy as closely as they can to established sites to get people to click and read and believe, banking on the fact that people aren’t double-checking the url.