The last few months have definitely been newsworthy. The spread of the pandemic and the rising death count have all contributed to some of the most compelling news in recent history.
But among all the fair, factual, and well-researched reporting lurks something more sinister: Fake news, stories that seem true, but are actually downright false.
While fake news has been circulating for just as long as real news has, it has recently gained a lot of traction recently, because of the way we consume information. According to a research, people under age 50 consume half of their news online. And for those under 30, online news is twice as popular as TV or radio news.
There are thousands of people that share and circulate these false stories. Why? Perhaps these attention grabbing headlines in social media feeds make it easier to share content than evaluating or even reading it. This creates a viral storm of sound bites that have no substance.
Another contributing factor is confirmation bias. What it means is that people are biased towards accepting information that confirms their beliefs and dismissing information that does not.
But the result of all this fake news consumption isn’t simply ignorance. It can also result in some serious consequences.
So we need to defend ourselves against getting fooled. Keeping track of good and bad news requires us to do a little hard work. Here’s how:
How to Identify a News Story’s Credibility
1. Analyse the publisher’s credibility.
Does the publishing site meet academic citation standards? Just because a site is popular does not mean it has accurate content.
What is the domain name? Be careful of weird top-level domain names, like “.com.co.” A second-level domain like “ndtv” may seem credible. But note that ndtvnews.com.co may be an illegitimate site, though designed to appear similar to the original.
What’s the opinion of the publication? Read the “About Us” section to get more insight into the publisher, leadership, and mission statement. Also, make sure that you have not stumbled upon a satirical news site, like the Onion.
Who wrote the piece? Have they published anything else? Be suspicious if the byline, which names the author, is a celebrity writing for a little-known site or if the writer’s contact information is just a G-mail address.
2. Pay attention to quality and timeliness.
If there are spelling errors, lots of ALL CAPS, or dramatic punctuation?!?!?! Then it’s time to stop reading. Reputable sources have high standards of proofreading and grammatical.
Is the story recent or recycled? Make sure an older story isn’t being shared out of context.
3. Check the sources and citations.
How did you come across the article? If the content was in your social media feed or was promoted on a website that publishes clickbait, proceed with caution. Even if the information was shared by a friend, follow the steps below to analyse the publisher’s credibility.
Who is quoted, and what did they say? If there’s a complete lack of quotes and contributing sources, particularly on a complex news, then something is wrong. Credible journalism requires fact-gathering, so a lack of research likely means a lack of factual information.
Is the story available on other sites? If not, then it’s very likely that the validity of the information is in question. Library databases are a great source for confirming the credibility of the information.
Can you do reverse searches for sources and images? By checking cited sources, you can confirm that the information is accurate and not altered to meet the writer’s point of view. The same is true for images. In an era of Photoshop magic, seeing is no longer believing.