Tips on Spotting Fake News

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There has been a lot of talk recently about fake news.  There is a difference between news people call fake because it contradicts what they say and news that is unreliable and probably just trying to get you to click on their site (or worse purposefully spreading malicious misinformation).  We in the tech industry refer to the ladder as “Click Bait”.  These are things that boost views on a website to increase their ad revenue.  So, with our worlds being so intertwined through social media how can you tell the difference between a credible source and someone just trying to make a quick buck?  Here are a few quick ways to check before you hit that share button!

First and foremost is the website.  If you’ve never heard of the news outlet the article is from that’s probably the first red flag.  Sure, we may all have political bias in sites like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News but they do have a reputation behind them.  I’ve yet to see a reputable news outlet purposefully publish falsehoods.  They may bend the narrative of facts to sway your opinion but the facts are there…somewhere.  However, a site like neonnettle.com?  I’ve never heard of them.  I’m sure you’ve never heard of them, that should immediately begin to make you question things.  Start looking for sources of the claims they are making.  How did they get this information?  Also, check the links they have in their article.  If most of them link back to the same site there is probably a problem.

That brings us to source checking.  I know that most of us don’t time to check every source in every article we read but if it’s worth sharing this “news” to your friends, it’s worth checking credibility.  Any reputable article that post something even slightly controversial should have its source information listed somewhere.  Even freshmen English papers are required to site their sources.  If there are no sources listed this is certainly a warning that this might not be real and should pretty much be dismissed as an opinion piece and not a factual piece.

If sources don’t seem to be available check to see if that headline comes up in a search engine.  If it is someone somewhere else is probably reporting on it.  Just copy and paste the article title in to you Google (or Bing if you’re into that) and see what comes up.  If the only thing that pops up is the site you’re reading from odds are it’s not credible and should be discarded.

A word of caution as well.  Beware of articles that speak directly to your point of view.  I spend the most time fact checking and verifying articles I agree with most.  It’s easy to say to yourself “I knew it!” when an article supports your point of view however this can simple serve as confirmation bias.  Just because you believe it and agree with it doesn’t make it true.

While I know it’s inconvenient to check on the credibility of every article you read it is important to do so before spreading it to the next person.  Some articles are simply harmless click bait, others can spread hateful messages about groups of people creating an “us vs them” mentality.  Also, the spread of misinformation can be detrimental do not only progress but also the safety of our neighborhoods, states, country and even our entire planet.

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