Merely being found on the internet does not guarantee truthfulness. While this concept may seem straightforward, if it were widely understood, Facebook and Google would not need to remove misleading news sources from their ad algorithms. People would also not eagerly share stories that make outrageous claims, such as Donald Trump being a covert reptile or Hillary Clinton being a robotic being disguised in a pantsuit.
There is no need for things to remain like this. Identifying fake news is not as difficult as it may seem – if you are aware of how to do so. Use this as your guide to develop media literacy.
In the process of compiling this, we consulted with two communication specialists: Dr. Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, who has gained widespread attention for her comprehensive list of untrustworthy news sources, and Alexios Mantzarlis, the director of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.
Begin by familiarizing yourself with the various forms of deceptive and inaccurate information.
1. Fake news
These are the most straightforward to disprove and frequently originate from fraudulent websites that mimic legitimate news sources. They may contain deceptive images and titles that, upon initial glance, seem plausible.
2. Misleading news
These are the most challenging to disprove, as they typically include a grain of truth: a piece of information, occurrence, or statement that has been taken out of its original context. Pay attention to sensational headlines that are not backed up by the details in the piece.
3. Highly partisan news
This refers to false information that may twist the truth of an actual news event in order to support a specific agenda.
The sensational or provocative titles of these articles lure you into clicking for further details – which may or may not deliver on what was advertised.
Next, improve your ability to verify information.
He told CNN that if we were more cautious about sharing and retweeting content solely based on the headline, we could better combat falsehoods.
According to Melissa Zimdars, even heavy internet users are not immune to false information.
“I believe that many people assume this way of thinking only pertains to older individuals,” she stated in an interview with CNN. “However, I strongly believe that even at a young age, education should include lessons on effective communication, navigating media, and using the internet. Simply having grown up with the internet does not automatically make one proficient in its usage.”
Here are 10 questions you can ask if you suspect something is fake:
Is the source of the story from an unusual URL?
According to Zimdars, websites with unusual endings such as “.co” or “.su” or those using third-party platforms like WordPress should be approached with caution. Certain fake sites, such as National Report, have seemingly legitimate names that can deceive users on social media. For example, several false stories from abcnews.com.co have gained popularity before being proven false, including one in June that falsely stated President Obama had banned assault weapon sales.
Is the title consistent with the content of the article?
Mantzarlis explains that a major contributing factor to the circulation of false news on Facebook is individuals falling for catchy titles and not taking the time to actually read the content.
In recent days, various questionable groups have shared a report about Pepsi’s CEO Indra Nooyi. One headline read, “Pepsi Stock Drops After CEO Encourages Trump Supporters to Find Alternatives.”
The articles did not include the quote or any proof that Pepsi’s stock experienced a noteworthy decrease. While Nooyi did make statements about Trump’s election, she was not quoted as telling his followers to take their business elsewhere.
Is this a new story or an old one that has been repurposed?
Occasionally, truthful news articles can be manipulated and brought back years later to fabricate a misleading connection between events. Mantzarlis remembers a false story that referenced a genuine report from CNNMoney.
The blog Viral Liberty released a report stating that Ford relocated the production of certain trucks from Mexico to Ohio due to Donald Trump’s victory in the election. This news quickly spread online and was perceived as a positive development for the American automotive sector.
In 2015, Ford transferred manufacturing operations from Mexico to Ohio, which was unrelated to the election outcome.
Can the videos or photos be confirmed?
Pictures and recordings can be manipulated to falsely support a claim. In April, Occupy Democrats, a liberal website, shared a video that appeared to show a young woman being forcibly removed from a bathroom by police for not appearing feminine enough. This occurred during the height of the HB2 “bathroom bill” controversy and the article explicitly connected the two. The headline read, “IT BEGINS.”
Unfortunately, the video lacks a date or any proof that it was filmed in North Carolina, the state where the controversial “bathroom bill” was being considered.
According to Snopes, the video was posted on a Facebook page in 2015, which proves that it was released before the HB2 controversy.
Are primary sources cited in the article?
It’s not only political information that can be fake. Now8News is a well-known website that appears legitimate, but in reality, it publishes fabricated articles about strange and unusual events that tend to spread quickly on the internet.
According to a particular article, Coca-Cola supposedly recalled Dasani water bottles due to the discovery of a “clear parasite” in the water. The article also included a repulsive photo that purportedly showed the parasite, but a simple online search suggests that it is actually an image of a juvenile eel.
However, the article did not include any official statement or assertion from a company. This would certainly be a significant piece of news. Wouldn’t Dasani or other consumer advocacy organizations release statements or press releases about it? Yet, 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 false quote attributed to Donald Trump, supposedly from a 1998 interview with People Magazine.
“I would align myself with the Republican party if I were to enter the race. Their voters are easily swayed and gullible, swallowing anything presented on Fox News without question. Even if I were to deceive them, they would still support me. My popularity would surely soar.”
It is simple to disprove this claim by briefly considering it: People.com’s archives contain a wealth of information, yet this quote cannot be located within them.
Is this the sole source reporting on the story?
During the recent election cycle, false reports about Pope Francis went viral on multiple websites. These reports falsely claimed that the Pope endorsed three different US Presidential candidates: Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton. However, these claims were proven to be untrue and were spread by fake news sites such as National Report, USAToday.com.co, WTOE 5 News, and KYPO6.com.
In each of these cases, subsequent reports all returned to the original fake ones. It is important to trace a story back to its source, and if you find yourself in a cycle – or if they all point to the same questionable website – this gives you reason to be skeptical.
Is your personal prejudice hindering your judgment?
Zimdars and Mantzarlis believe that confirmation bias plays a significant role in the spread of fake news. This is partly due to Facebook’s algorithm, which shows users more content related to their interests based on their interactions and likes.
If you have a dislike for Donald Trump, you may be inclined to believe negative reports about him without any proof.
According to Zimdars, we tend to look for information that aligns with our existing beliefs. Even when we encounter opposing information, we may still find ways to support our beliefs by searching for flaws.
If you come across an unbelievable article that seems too good to be true, be careful. It could potentially be false.
Has a credible fact-checking organization disproved it?
Were you aware that there exists an International Fact-Checking Network, with Mantzarlis as its leader? This network has a set of principles, including values like nonpartisanship and transparency. Popular websites such as FactCheck.org, Snopes, and Politifact adhere to this code, meaning that any debunking published on these sites can be trusted. The entire list of principles can be found here.
Is the host included in a list of untrustworthy news websites?
This is the point where it can become complicated. There is a significant distinction between news that is “misleading,” which is typically rooted in truth, and news that is “fake,” which is simply made up to appear factual. Zimdars’ well-known compilation encompasses both types, along with satire and websites that exploit attention-grabbing headlines. Snopes also curates a similar list.
Although Zimdars is pleased that her list has gained significant recognition, she advises against dismissing certain sites as entirely “fake.” She wants to ensure that her list does not hinder the ultimate goal. It is noteworthy that some of the media coverage about her list is just as exaggerated as the headlines she is analyzing.