How to Spot Fake News

Sadly, fake news is not new; it’s just topical.

The internet has morphed what we once knew as propaganda into what we now call fake news by reducing the cost, time and possible litigation related to creating and disseminating intentionally deceptive, biased or blurred truth stories.  Wow; that was a lot to say.  Fake news is, after all, a complicated affair.

For this discussion, I am not including deliberate and obvious satire like The Onion, but rather the divisive, intentionally misleading and potentially destructive lies masquerading as genuine news.  

The growing problem of fake news proliferation is exacerbated by “the filter bubble”.  Popular (social) media sites often employ algorithms to retain visitor interest by prominently posting content we like and burying posts we don’t.  We are therefore responsible for our own “truth filter”.

We must employ our own “truth filter” and halt the spread of fake news.  Excuses like, “I’m just passing it on as I get it” and "I'm not sure its true but sharing anyway," are just plain irresponsible.

The potential consequences are just too high.  The well-cited story of the 2016 shooting up of the Comet Ping Ping pizzeria by a 28-year-old North Carolina man who was “self-investigating” a bogus news story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex abuse ring out of the location, is an excellent example of the real dangers of fake news.

More recently and closer to home, images of a woman’s body being cut open allegedly as part of a local organ theft ring were circulated widely via WhatsApp leading to wild conspiracy theories and fear.  As it turns out, the video was taken from a 2014 autopsy video causing much distress to the young lady’s family.  

Let us not be a party to these kinds of atrocities.  Let’s spot and stop fake news!

Read Past the Headline

Headlines, by their very nature, are designed to draw us in.  So too, the first paragraph is written to entice us to read further.  If we stop there, we may not have the information necessary to effectively analyse the article.  Often the body has little or nothing to do with the headline, has a disclaimer, has poor grammar indicating the information is not credible or has obvious clues the story is false.

Confirm Source, Date and Time

Some fake news sites try to fool us into believing the site is legitimate with official-sounding titles, copy cat URLs and look-alike pages.  Check the source of the material very carefully.  Take a moment to read the “About Us”.  If the language is over the top, absent or poorly written, then the source is possibly not credible.

Take a good look at the dateline of the story and other date references.  Some fake news stories and old stories or old content which have been regurgitated to appear “new”.

Questions Links, Sources, Quotes and Photos

Real journalists include citations, attribution and relevant images to enhance their stories.  Fake news writers avoid citations; they don’t have credible sources, and they steal and reuse unrelated pictures to make their points.  Be on the watch for these indicators.

Links to reference material litter real news stories.  Follow the links used to support a story and make an evaluation if they are relevant.  Look closely at the sources quoted, if any, in a story.  Do a quick internet search of their name and title to determine if they have the requisite authority to make the statement or if their quote (or a similar quote) appears on trustworthy news sites.  Finally, be sure that the image is related to the story and not just a picture transplanted from another place and time on the web page.  Google offers a reverse image search to inform if the picture has been used elsewhere on the internet.

Determine Bias

Lots of websites have declared biases; some do not.  But we need to know what we are dealing with.  Peruse the site a news story appears on to see if there is an agenda they seem to be promoting and then, take the information presented with a tablespoon of salt.

Seek Corroboration

Before you take the first link as gospel, take a moment to find out if other news organisations are reporting the same news.  Get the facts before you spread what's false!

If ever in doubt, visit the RJR News Centre for consistently credible news.


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