Every day we are confronted with thousands of impressions, ads and news items. And our social media flow never stops feeding us with content to consume, interact with or re-share. Since the numbers are, to say the least, overwhelming, how can we accurately separate valid information from fake news? How do we know what’s true or false in a world where information is all around us, all the time? It is becoming increasingly vital to be able to identify fake news.
As a responsible and modern media consumer we all need to do some work to ensure that the content that comes our way is relevant. Since the days no longer exist of Walter Cronkite, and his, “And that’s the way it is,” news delivery, we simply cannot rely on any information until you are absolutely certain of the source. Even established media sometimes do sloppy journalism and publish stories which, if we scratch the surface, can be doubted. So, it’s our responsibility to evaluate every piece of content before making our mind up or decide to share it with others. Because, if we don’t, the STUPID-20 virus, causing people to believe everything they read on Facebook and hear from a talking head on TV, is going to doom us all long before COVID-19 does.
There are several ways to spot fake news, but if you follow these simple steps you should be safe, or at least safer than taking everything that is posted, written, or spoken on blind trust.
One of the most important services you can do to yourself as a media consumer is to develop a critical mindset. Every time you spot a piece of information, ask yourself questions like “what is the purpose of this story?” or “is it too good to be true?” Is it trying to make you do something, for example click to move to another website, or trying to sell something to you? Keeping your guard up when reading news is your best defense against fake news.
Check the source
Where is the news published? Is it a well-known source that you trust? Or is it an unknown source? Fake news sites frequently copy well-known sources, like BBC News or CNN, and create pages with a similar visual design and URLs of a similar type. By digging a little deeper you can reveal the true nature of the source. Also check for obvious jokes – if the story is too outlandish it might be humor or satire.
Check supporting sources
Has the story been picked up by other well-known publishers? Today it’s easy to see if there are multiple sources confirming the story – a simple search will do the job. If there is a lack of supporting sources, there’s reason to be skeptical of the content.
Fact-check the content
Credible news outlets most often include quotes from experts or interviewees, survey data or official facts. But even if it’s a so called “expert”, and the facts seem OK, it’s worth doing some digging. By visiting Factlab.com you can check the facts in a database with more than 60 million pieces of facts, collected from referred sources world-wide.
Ask a Factivist
If you cannot verify the relevance of a story by checking the steps above, you can always ask a Factivist. This can be someone knowledgeable in your circle of friends or in your professional network, or an external source that you trust. By getting a second opinion you can evaluate a story with greater confidence, to tell if it’s true or false.
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