Falsehood spreads so quickly through social media and the internet at large that avoiding it can seem impossible. How can you distinguish truth from fiction?
Let’s look at how to avoid fake news, as well as how you can avoid spreading fake news yourself. With some critical thinking and resources, you can help keep this problem from getting worse.
How to Spot and Avoid Fake News
First, let’s look at some ways to steer clear of fake news if you suspect you’re reading a false story.
1. Examine the Source
Anyone can publish an article online, but that doesn’t make it true. To determine if something is true, you should start by looking at the website it was published on.
Is the website trustworthy? If it ends in a weird domain like “.news.co,” that’s questionable. You should read the About Us page to learn more about the website’s mission and credibility. Make sure that you aren’t mistaking content on a satire site as fact.
After examining the website, look at the author’s information. Are they a well-known and trusted figure in journalism? Do they have links to their personal website or social media pages, and are they verified on those platforms if so? You shouldn’t take opinions from a no-name commentator very seriously.
2. Consider the Article’s Quality
Reputable news sources won’t publish articles that are full of spelling or grammatical mistakes. If you notice any typos or other blatant errors, you’re probably reading a website with low credibility. The same goes for sensationalism, such as overuse of punctuation or dramatic language.
You should also check the date on the story. There’s a chance that a publisher could recycle an old story with a few altered details and pretend it’s fresh.
3. Trace the Information to the Source
Articles that make serious claims should be able to back them up. If the piece contains no quotes or links to sources, that’s a red flag. An author who quickly wrote up an inaccurate story likely didn’t bother to do proper research.
If there are sources given, examine them. Follow the chain of information to make sure this wasn’t all based on false premises, like an out-of-context quote.
You should also see if other reputable sources have spoken about the information. If nobody else backs up the claim, the chances are higher that it’s nonsense.
4. Use Fact-Checking Resources
If you’re really not sure whether a story is fake or not, you can rely on resources who look into these stories all day. We’ve shown you the best fact-checking websites to help you verify whether online information is true.
Of course, even fact-checkers aren’t always 100% accurate. So while they’re useful, it’s always best to confirm the truth for yourself if you can.
5. Beware of Fake Images and Videos
With today’s advanced image manipulation tools, it’s relatively trivial for someone to create a believable fake image or even a video. You should thus never believe a story based solely on a screenshot, image, or video clip.
To see if an image has been manipulated, you can use tools like FotoForensics. It’s also smart to run the image through a reverse image search service so you can see if it’s been used elsewhere or altered.
Make sure you know about the risks of deepfakes too.
How to Avoid Spreading Fake News
Next, we’ll look at a few tips to help you avoid spreading fake news yourself, especially on social media.
6. Don’t Share Without Thinking
It’s all too easy to click “Share,” “retweet,” or “forward” on stories without looking into them properly. Many people do this after reading just the headline and don’t even consider what’s actually in the article.
Resist the temptation to instantly share stories with your friends, especially if they seem sensational. People who trust you may see what you shared and take it as truth without looking at it themselves, which further contributes to the problem.
Finally, remember that “fake news” doesn’t just refer to made-up stories. Another form of fake news involves include putting a misleading spin on true information. You’ll often notice this when you compare facts in an article to a dramatic headline.
7. Include Verifiable Information When You Post
If you post an article or update related to a timely topic, you should include supporting information about the claim. Adding a link to a scientific journal, fact-checking page, or other trusted source will greatly add to the credibility of what you’ve said.
Additionally, having explicit details laid out gives others the chance to disprove them with facts themselves. Otherwise, a discussion on social media could devolve into a shouting match without any evidence, where nobody says anything of importance.
8. Contest Fake News When You See It
If you see someone share a story on social media that you know is false, don’t let it sit out and confuse others. You should comment on the post with a link to a trusted source that disproves the original article.
While not everyone who sees the post will bother to read your correction, its presence will hopefully at least give people pause before they take the original content at face value.
Depending on the service, you can also report false stories to the platform. For example, you can let Facebook know that an article is untrue by reporting it. Click on the three-dot Menu button at the top-right of a post on Facebook and choose Find Support or Report Post. After this, select False News as the reason and continue to submit your report.
Facebook has started to mark stories as false after they’re verified by fact-checkers, so you may see a notice on such images when this happens.
9. Read Reputable Sources in the First Place
Fake news sometimes festers in the darker corners of the internet where there’s not as much accountability. To avoid exposing yourself to false stories as much as possible, you should stick to legitimate sites and reporters as much as you can.
Keep in mind, though, that just because a news company or brand is mainstream doesn’t mean that it’s trustworthy.
But once you’ve vetted some sources and feel you can reasonably trust them, you should get your news there instead of from social media. Consider using dedicated news apps to follow trusted sources.
10. Stay Calm During Developing Crises
A lot of fake news revolves around crisis situations, where a lot of information arrives at once. It’s difficult to separate truth from lies during these times, so you should be on your guard when breaking news comes onto the scene.
As a crisis develops, there’s a high likelihood that most sources don’t know what’s going on yet. To keep your attention and clicks coming, news sites will want to come up with something—even if it’s not accurate.
Keep an eye out for phrases like “we are getting reports” or “we are seeking confirmation.” Neither of these confirm that the source has any trustworthy information.
While it’s from a comedy movie, the below clip from Anchorman 2 illustrates how news outlets can spin a story way beyond its initial scope. Keep an eye out for these tactics in real-world scenarios.
Avoid Fake News: Think First!
We’ve looked at many ways to avoid fake news and keep yourself from spreading fake news on social media. In summary, you shouldn’t trust any sources without looking into them critically first, and never share content from a friend that you haven’t examined on your own.
It’s way too easy for false content to spread like crazy in today’s online environment. Everyone can do a little bit to keep fake news from propagating in their circles.
For more, you should know how to spot other common online fakes .
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