How to Spot Fake News and How to Become a Better Information Consumer
What Fake News Actually Is
Fake news is a term that means propaganda and deliberate misinformation presented in a way that misleads the reader. The phrase was taken by Donald Trump and skewed to mean anything that he didn't agree with -- and more specifically anything published by the New York Times, CNN, NBC, and other "liberal media." The mainstream media does tend to lean left -- however the news itself is "real." Journalism 101 teaches us that the most important thing when reporting on news and events is the facts -- and I feel that the news media as a whole today has become way too focused on getting the scoop and spreading their opinion... with the facts coming in last. Unfortunate yes, but not "fake." This is why it's important to consume information with some specific thoughts in mind.
How to Spot It
Traditional "fake" news is sensational and too good/bad to be true. Many fake news organizations lay out their website look like real news sources, but with a slightly different web address. Wikipedia has a list of these types of offenders, like cnn-trending.com or NBCNews.com.co. If you read an article on their site you might take it as fact -- but check the address and make sure it's actually the site you think you're reading. A lot of articles from these sites are shared on social media, and this is how misinformation spreads.
A few other clues that will tip you off:
- Sensationalized headlines (exclamation marks, all caps)
- Website has a ton of ads for sketchy products (porn, get rich quick schemes)
- Deliberately attacking political figures (on the left or right)
- Misspellings and disorganized writing
- No listed sources (interviews from anonymous people)
- Unbelieveable claims (if it seems too out there, it usually is)
- Weird fonts and photoshopped images
- No byline (so no one is held accountable for their words)
Check your biases at the door. Whether you're conservative or liberal, having a real unbiased news source is extremely valuable. The image in this article provides a good overall look at some major news organizations and which way they lean. I try to read as much "down the middle" information as possible. I myself am more left-leaning, so I try to keep that in mind as I'm reading: "Are my biases making me feel a certain way?" I ask myself. "Am I in an echo chamber that is going to further encourage me to think the way I do?" For every major news event, I try to read as many articles from varying sources as I can, and then I come to my own conclusions after gathering all of the information. Being neutral and unbiased is key when being a news consumer. This way you can see things for how they really are, rather than how any one media organization wants you to see. Ignore their agendas and focus on the facts -- then you will really be able to absorb "real news."