“Fake news” has become a topic of household conversation. It is more important than ever to have a firm understanding of what authentic and reputable journalism is, and what is actually fake news.
It is more important than ever that individuals be proactive in differentiating fake news from real news, especially in the social media world. Consider some of the points below to get your education started.
What Actually is Fake News?
According to GCF Learn Free, “…Fake news is any article or video containing untrue information disguised as a credible news source. Fake news typically comes from sites that specialize in bogus or sensationalized stories. It tends to use provocative headlines, like Celebrity endorses not brushing teeth or Politician selling toxic waste on the black market.”
However, as GCF points out, these stories are becoming increasingly dangerous in the digital age, with many people consuming stories on social media without fact checking or bothering to confirm that such headlines that aim for a “shock” factor even exist. Once these stories are shared and become popularized, enough people believe the story and accept the story as truthful. Oftentimes, this can even become subconscious. This cycle is vicious in the social media world, as stories that make it to the top of news feed are all-too-often untruthful clickbait.
Jokes and Satire Are Not Fake News
It is also incredibly important to mention that satire sites like The Onion and Clickhole, which feature funny stories based on relevant current events, are not “fake news.” They are smart satire pieces intended to be humorous — not real — and their entire sites are based around their readers being knowledgeable about this strategy and theme. With branding like Clickhole’s own “Because Everything Deserves to Go Viral” or The Onion’s “America’s Finest News Source,” their articles’ joking nature is intended to be common knowledge.
A Word on Mainstream News
For the most part, trust in major news sources really lies in the eye of the beholder. See the image below highlighting the most trusted major news sources in America (most of which are actually British), as found by Pew Research Center and cited by Business Insider. While there are discrepancies based on ideological views, most major news sources do have to undergo editorial reviews and are recognized as being prestigious forms of journalism. The BBC, PBS, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, ABC, NBC, CNN, USA Today, and Google News were among the most trusted across ideological groups (with the exception of consistently conservative folks — who favor BBC, Google News, and the Wall Street Journal).
How to Differentiate Between Fake News and Real News
There are definitely some things you can do if you are not certain a story is real or fake. Here are some tips to help you differentiate between fake news and real news stories:
What is the Site?
As discussed above, while people fall all over the board ideologically in deciding whether they trust a mainstream news source, the truth is that most major recognized sources for news journalism are not going to be producing clickbait fake news. Most of the fake news that go for “shock” value and produce fake stories are not as recognized. Look into the source itself and see whether it is a website that can be trusted.
Check the Domain
NPR recently reported that many fake news stories use similar URLs and domain names to mimic reputable news sources, but rather than using a .com they use .com.co endings. “This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos. For example, abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not, despite its similar appearance.”
What are the Authors’ Sources?
Good news stories contain links to other reputable reporting by respected organizations. They contain interviews with individuals who can confirm or deny they made the claim. They are supported by evidence, dates, and other data that can be fact checked. Be wary of sources that cannot substantiate their claims.
When in doubt, fact-check the information that you read! You can start with a simple search to look into the keywords or the event that is being reported on. You can also use sites like PolitiFact, FactCheck, and Snopes — all of which are extremely reputable fact checking sites for a variety of issues and topics (not just politics).
Examine the Website Closely
It is important to not look at one story alone but to look at the full spectrum of details on the site. Are there other fake-looking or shocking headlines? What does the overall website look like? How is the user experience? Sometimes doing just a little further digging will make it evident if a news story is fake.
How Informed Users Can Interact
Once you identify if a story is real or fake, you can make a big difference. Do not share stories on social media that are fake and make them more visible. If you notice a friend or family member share a fake story on a social media outlet, do them a favor and comment or message them showing how you found out it was fake so they don’t repeat the same mistake.
If you come across a fake news article, comment on it stating how you arrived at the conclusion it was fake. If everyone does their part to distinguish fake news stories and make them known, then they won’t be shared as easily.
How do you differentiate between fake news and actual news stories? Do you see this as an increasing problem on social media? Let us know your thoughts and what strategies you use for identification on social media.
All screenshots taken by author March 2017.