The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the way we produce and consume news. Technology has brought about unmistakable progress on many fronts, but it has also introduced new opportunities for exploitation and attack.
It’s fair to say that disinformation has long challenged our ability to discern truth in media. But the 2016 presidential election exposed to the public a new strain of the virus, and it’s one that requires increased vigilance to remedy.
Today’s abundance of “news” invites us to indulge our inherent prejudices on demand, even when facts disprove our feelings. Anonymous social media profiles (including bots) enable the wildest ideas to spread across information networks, even appearing on the @POTUS account at times.
Fake news stories are sometimes funny. They are often benign. But they can also have serious and terrible consequences.
As our society adapts to this new landscape — one the President aggravates by labeling any media that challenges him as “the enemy” or “fake news” — foreign adversaries look to spread their own propaganda. Their disinformation campaigns exploit our free and open media, sowing chaos and eroding democracy in the process.
When consuming media from any source, and in particular online, one must navigate our digital world carefully. Know what to look for, and help your family and friends avoid spreading misinformation too.
Here are four strategies to help you identify fake news.
1. EXAMINE THE SOURCE
First, look at the URL: have you ever heard of breakingnews365.net before? If you haven’t, be wary of the site’s contents.
The Internet’s open and accessible nature means virtually anyone can publish an official-looking website. Someone with basic web skills can have a site up and running in a matter of minutes, with almost no cost.
The producers of fake news have political and financial motives. During the 2016 presidential race, for example, the Denver Guardian — an entirely fake news site — generated between $10,000 and $30,000 a month in ad revenue.
Of course, sites that mix real journalism with distorted (or blatantly false) information blur the line between fact and fiction. Here’s a list of the worst offenders.
2. CHECK YOUR SHOCK LEVEL
Did the article you just read shock you because it’s inconsistent with known facts? Did it seem designed to play on your emotions? If a claim or story seems outrageous, don’t take it at face value. It’s possibly twisted to confirm your worst fears and suspicions, or simply made up altogether.
Why do so many people fall for this trap? Because fake news purveyors — including advertisers — seek clicks and shares of their content, and they know appealing to raw emotion elicits a greater response in our brains.
Bottom line: take a moment to analyze what you just read and ask yourself if it seems too “out there” to be true. If the answer is yes, proceed with caution before internalizing, clicking or sharing.
3. CONSULT GOOGLE (or maybe Bing?)
When something happens, news organizations race to publish. Every bureau chief wants to be the first to post or to secure the next exclusive. So when important national events happen, multiple sources cover it.
Different outlets may, of course, offer their particular analysis of an issue. But at the end of the day, the root facts of an issue — its essential truth — will shine through.
As a rule of thumb, check to see if other outlets are talking about a given subject. If at least three different, well-known publications have reported on the same topic, there’s a good chance its core facts are legitimate.
Example: Fox News, MSNBC and the New York Times each published an article about President Trump and Steve Bannon around August 15, 2017. While each source frames the story differently, it’s probably safe to conclude that this is real news.
4. COMPENSATE FOR MEDIA BIAS
It’s true — media outlets on both sides of the aisle present the news with bias. But, as with Tip #3, we can overcome this by challenging opposing viewpoints.
Where do you gather your news, generally speaking? If it’s largely through TV, consider reading a newspaper. If you typically read Fox News articles online, consider watching CNN.
Too often, we choose to ignore ideas that compete with our preconceived notions. By varying our sources and consuming those with which we disagree, we are more likely to get to the truth than if we only participate in the partisan echo chamber that too often reaffirms false narratives.
This link should be bookmarked for future reference!