How To Avoid Fake News

“Our press is driven by eyeballs, and attention, and clicks, and advertising, and passion, and raising the anxiety of viewers”

 Dr. Jason Johnson, writer and academic (Morgan State University)
Figure 1: Image supporting a campaign to stop fake news via Europol

As the world keeps moving around us, so does the spread of false information (or “fake news” as popularized by American President Donald J. Trump). Nowadays, the desire for public attention through clicks, reads and shares has grown exponentially since the Internet’s inception. Many publishers from all across the globe keep looking to use new strategies to boost traffic. Two common frowned upon tactics include clickbait and fake news. In this article, the subject of fake news will be tackled since we already covered clickbait in a previous article “9 Reasons Why People Always Fall For Clickbait!”.

These two strategies have become so popular online that most articles are first consumed with a grain of salt until proven either factual or false. Either that, or they are ignorantly embraced as common knowledge to the reader even if they may seem ridiculous in hindsight.

Fake news can come in two forms:

1. Made up tales

These are stories that have been created inside the mind of the writer in an attempt to make readers believe something that simply is not true, for reasons such as influencing someone to buy a certain product or visiting a certain website, e.g. celebrity death hoaxes.

Examples of recent attempts to provide fake news whilst masquerading as legitimate news portals.

2. Stories that are not totally factual

These are write-ups which will have some elements of truth to them but are still not 100% accurate, e.g. a misused quote someone really said being used out of context to promote a different agenda altogether. Sometimes, these pieces can be very opinionated rather than being unbiased and fully honest.

By using the following steps, you can reduce the chances of believing fake stories and avoid falling victim to these traps yourself.

Step 1: Follow New & Reliable Information Hubs

It is much more reassuring to see five different sources reporting the same story rather than just one. Therefore, it is important to take note of the pages and newsrooms that are worthy of following.

One could make use of the media-bias chart portrayed in Figure 3 (found later under Step 2) to discover which publishers suffice a good read on a regular basis and which ones are not suggested.

Through experience, one can quickly identify a good source from a bad one just by reading through their work. Such publishers are not only competent enough to write a solid piece regarding a certain topic, but are also skilled enough to input insightful details under a certain structure. In other words, respectable writers will do their utmost to teach the reader something new with every read.

Figure 2: Visual Illustration of Insight

An easy way to identify a dubious source is if they continuously disrespect certain people unjustly for something they may or may not have done. Commonly, such disrespected people tend to be either celebrities or politicians. It is one thing to critique President Trump’s latest incident, but it is another to write a rant about him to vent your frustrations. Respected writers will rarely portray any subjectivity through their writing for the sake of being fully objective and presenting nothing but facts. Every writer carries the responsibility of providing their readers with all the facts in order to let them create their own opinion regarding the topic in question, not the other way around. Otherwise, it is very likely that the writer is attempting to push a certain agenda over all of their viewers.

In Malta, such publishers are very common in our political climate; mainly in ONE News and NET News. Since these two media are owned by the main two opposing political parties (PL and PN respectively) it is unsurprising to know that these sources are very clearly biased. That being said, if someone is thinking about following newsrooms owned by political parties, two options are suggested. They should either not follow them at all and rely solely on independent sources or do what some very loyal supporters may call treason – follow the main newsrooms owned (or endorsed) by their opposing party. This refers to all pro-government and all anti-government channels.

The latter option is suggested since it will give the reader a more in-depth understanding to everything that is going on. The political situation becomes much less confusing when this option is adhered to. As an example, a PL supporter who watches NET News will probably know more about current affairs than a PL supporter who does not since they are painting a bigger picture for themselves.

Step 2: Filter your News Sources

While this may seem quite straight-forward, it is important to filter out your sources for information and to unfollow all publishers who regularly publish fake news. Such fake news could either be published as a story with zero substance (a total lie), a few mistruths or else it could be posted to help push a certain hidden agenda.

It is essential to identify which groups regularly upload false information, fail to present important news updates and on the contrary, which ones truly provide readers with full coverage on a consistent basis.

Figure 3: Media Bias Chart of various newsrooms.

If you are unsure about the truth within a shared article, one can take the extra step and use a fact-checking site. Personally, we highly suggest using snopes.com (while this sounds sponsored, we can only wish that it was) to verify whether a story is false or true – this is marked as a “correct attribution”. The site also verifies or busts popular rumours circling around the web, e.g. 5G is not harmful or of any physical danger to us.

Figure 4: Logo of fact-checking site Snopes.com

It must be noted that one should not go to the extreme of unfollowing a page because they were wrong about one opinion from 10,000 others they got spot-on. This should only become the case if the source leaves out important details and repeats the mistakes that have been gone over on a regular basis.

Ultimately, what should be noted here is which sources provide the reader with nothing but utter garbage, which ones should be read with a grain of salt and which ones should be treated respectfully.

This step can only be done properly by keeping an open mind. This leads us to the next step.

Step 3: Be Open to Opposing Perspectives

It is totally pointless for one to attempt to stay away from false headlines and such unless they keep an open mind to new perspectives. It is very possible that someone you would usually ignore is raising very valid points on a topic which you have not yet heard of. Just because someone you despise says something, that does not mean it is impossible to share an opinion with them or for them saying something good.

Let’s roleplay for a second and pretend that you are an American Republican and an avid voter of President Donald J. Trump. If you refuse to listen to any of his criticism coming from democrats, libertarians, floaters and foreign sources, then you will look at the billionaire president with an almost almighty presence – like a god amongst men who can do no harm.

When debating an issue, learn to discuss with the goal of finding out what is right rather than to defend what you think is correct. The same idea goes when looking at different sources for information. One can only see the bigger picture by listening to how all sides decide to portray it. 

An example for this step was given at the very end of Step 1.

Step 4: Stay Aware & Keep Reading Critically

Once you have made sure that you mostly follow respectable pages online, make sure to continue keeping an eye out for any faults noted anywhere in order not to repeat this occurrence. These could come about as content from pages you follow or that people you may know share online.

The first example that springs to mind are the countless videos and articles that run rounds around forums filled with middle-aged circles of people from all over the world. Examples of this are given in “9 Reasons Why People Always Fall For Clickbait!”.

Figure 5: Common phrases used in clickbait titles

While it is very good to keep up to date with current affairs and trends, keeping this fact-checking filter on may go a long way for a countless number of reasons. Remember to ask yourself:

  • Where is this from?
  • What is missing?

It is perfectly understandable if you have believed a made-up story in the past considering how many exist everywhere online nowadays. After all, they are designed to seem legitimate, so they can be tough to identify. So do everyone a favour and do not share a story unless you are sure about everything that has been said.

Written by: Kyle P. Camilleri

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