How do we filter out fake news and misleading information in the vast ocean of the internet?
The advent of the internet brought with it incredible advancements in technology, communication, and the global economy, but with it also ushered in a long list of challenges that were previously unknown to us as a society. Identity theft, email scams, phishing, and other cybercrimes arose as the internet became larger and more widely used.
One challenge that has taken prevalence in recent years is fake news. With the widespread use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, instant mass-communication became a permanent feature in our lives, with people spending anywhere from 2 to 3 hours on their social media channels. As the internet quickly became our main source of information and news, the concept of the “official story” was somewhat muddled in the process.
We used to rely on large broadcasting companies and newspapers to get our world and local news. These companies are traditionally bound to strict codes of practice and legal compliance before they can agree on what the truth about any given story was. Because of the costs behind printing newspapers or broadcasting to television, communicating news and content required a broadscale effort and a lot of coordination. Nowadays, the internet and social media have made it possible for every independent citizen to have an outlet where they can publish content with very large potential outreach. While this has amplified our global communication and made our world smaller, this has also been taken advantage of by those who have found it profitable to peddle in deliberate misinformation and fake news. This has become significantly damaging in recent years as misinformation has been weaponized for political purposes.
It can often be difficult to distinguish fake news from real, credible information, especially given how social media algorithms function to show you content. Critical thinking and discerning are vital to surviving in the fake news era. As a digital marketing company, we feel it’s important to start honing these skills as surfers in the ocean of information that is the internet. Before getting into a few tips to get better at filtering fake news, let’s take a look at the types of misinformation you may run into online:
- Clickbait: stories that are created to generate traffic to a website or landing page. They often have sensationalist or hyperbolized headlines to get readers attention but are seldom supported by sources or facts (e.g., Scientists have found the cure to baldness, find out how here!).
- Political Propaganda: stories deliberately fabricated to mislead readers in favor of a political agenda.
- Satire: satire or parody of real news that looks just like a real news article. Usually intentionally and openly fake, but can get confused with real news if the reader isn’t paying attention.
- Bad or amateur journalism: many independent and amateur journalists have blogs, YouTube channels, and other outlets to publish news that can often be marred by sloppy journalism and bad fact-checking.
- Misleading headings: sometimes, a heading can become a full story in a reader’s mind. A misleading heading can lead to the perception of the content without actually reading it, often giving readers the wrong idea which they then share with others.
- Biased News: news that is deliberately published to favor one argument and reaffirm the reader’s personal beliefs, in spite of facts proving otherwise. Social media algorithms contribute to readers seeing biased news often, tailored to their likes and activity.
How do we get better at spotting fake news?
It’s all about improving our critical thinking and applying it as an active exercise when consuming information online. Here are are a few tips to improve your fake news filters:
1) Vetting credibility
Vetting the credibility of a publisher is a simpler task than one would imagine. The reader must ask themselves several questions: does this publication meet academic citation standards? Is the domain name of the site suspicious? Is the author known?
A lot of fake news gets passed around by direct sharing. Remember: just because a link came from a friend you trust does not mean it has accurate content. Do your own vetting, even if the article was shared by someone you trust.
2) Quality and timeliness
Quality is a very important factor when it comes to spotting fake news. If you notice a lot of spelling errors, overly-dramatic tone, or general sloppiness in redaction, it’s likely your dealing with a piece of fake news. Another easy way to vet a story is simply by looking at the date. Stories often get recycled for clicks and can be taken out of context.
This goes beyond stories on social media; you should check sources and citations for nearly all the information that comes your way. How did you arrive at this article? Who was it shared by? Is the information on this article available elsewhere? What is or isn’t quoted?
Check cited sources and perform reverse searches for sources and images on the content you see. This will help you confirm the legitimacy of any given piece of information.
Fact-checking websites exist to make it easier for readers to quickly check the veracity of a news article. They use technology and expertise to provide accurate vetting and filtering. Fake stories can show up on more than one website and spread quickly, giving the impression that it is real information. You can check any of these fact-checking websites to help you vet news and stories:
We hope these tips are useful to our readers and help them become better at filtering fake news. Stick to the facts!