How to Spot and Stop Fake News
The term “fake news” may at times seem like an oxymoron – after all, news is inherently considered true and real. But misinformation and disinformation are so prevalent that this once contradictory term now describes an increasingly important feature in our society. That is, some media outlets claim to present news when, in fact, they publish ideological propaganda, sensationalist “entertainment” or outright lies.
When people believe these stories and spread them to others, they gain popularity in the public sphere, where they create (and exacerbate) social divisions. In some cases, disinformation also serves to distract attention from urgent social problems and thwart public-policy solutions.
No one wants to be fooled by fake news, let alone infect others with it. So, how can one best identify it and help prevent its spread?
Why is fake news a problem?
Fake news has grown exponentially in recent years and unfortunately remains widespread today. According to a study by NewsGuard, content from fake news sites on social media has nearly doubled in the first 11 months of 2019 alone.
Perhaps the most famous poster child for the deliberate spread of misinformation is Fox News, which was recently forced to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million for defaming the voting machine company with “active malice.” . Indeed, studies have shown that audiences who consume content from this outlet – even skeptics who are simply checking to see what the other side is saying – are more likely to care about public events. Clearly has little information.
The 2021 documentary “Framing Britney Spears” also showed how the tabloid press used paparazzi photos to fabricate false stories about the pop icon. It’s no surprise that Spears did not succeed under these circumstances of hostile interest and constant harassment. Meanwhile, repeated misogynistic headlines and breathless myth-making created such a widespread perception of her “instability” that a court stripped her of her autonomy and placed her under guardianship. She was successful in regaining her freedom only after a decade.
Importance of Media Literacy Training
According to the MIT Media Lab, the biggest reason for this firestorm of fake news is that many Americans do not pay attention to whether the content they share online is factually accurate. In fact, the American Psychological Association suggests that they may share it simply to signal their membership in a larger socio-political group or “online tribe.”
However, there is hope. A follow-up study from the MIT Media Lab found that suggesting people consider the accuracy of their social media posts before “submit” could help stem the tide.
This is where media literacy training comes in. When you understand how to identify misleading content, and use these tools to evaluate social media solutions, you can help stop fake news – and stop it from spreading.
Here are three tips to help improve your media literacy.
Tip #1: Verify Sources
Always double-check the credibility of your sources before accepting or sharing any content you find online. Credible outlets should have a track record of accuracy and transparency, and research should confirm that their audience understands what’s happening in the world better than someone who doesn’t consume news at all. In general, nonprofit sources of news like NPR perform best in the US on these measures.
Credible news sources should also avoid ideological bias. The company Ad Fontes Media periodically updates a handy chart that identifies which “news” outlets actually report the news, and which provide increasingly problematic biased commentary. Type the name of a given source in the search box, and the interactive interface will immediately show you its location on the map, as well as the data points used to determine it.
Tip #2: Cross-Reference Information
Never trust any one source, especially if it doesn’t have a glowing reputation, so always be sure to check other sources to make sure they agree with the information. If multiple reputable sources agree, it does not guarantee that the content is true, but increases the likelihood.
On the other hand, if just one reputable source questions claims you’ve seen elsewhere, it’s a red flag for fake news. No matter how much you want to trust that first source, it’s wise to stop. If no consensus has yet been reached among reputable sources, it is a good idea to wait until that happens.
Tip #3: Check Your Facts Before You Share
Before sharing information on social media, do your due diligence and run it through a fact-checking website. For example, fact-checkers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center can confirm or deny the authenticity of many claims by politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as stories about health, immigration, and climate change.
Another important fact-checking website is talkaaj, which quickly checks trending images and other posts on social media and debunks them if necessary.
Promote media literacy in your circle
When people share fake news, it makes them appear completely gullible, if not trustworthy. The spread of this misinformation also has a negative impact on our entire country.
To save your friends and family from this fate and help reverse these troubling trends, consider using your social media accounts to promote media literacy. Share resources and tips on how to accurately evaluate news sources, such as this article.
Education is key to combating fake news. Together, we can restore “real news” to its rightful place as just plain “news” and make “fake news” contradictory again.