Fake News is a term that Americans have become quite accustomed to since the 2016 election. While the President is not wrong that the media is not always 100% truthful, he doesn’t have all the facts right himself. What we call “fake news,” or news that contains a bias, and false, or misleading information comes from both sides. Fake news is not, in fact, media that you don’t like, or media that you wish wasn’t true. Democrats and Republicans can spread misinformation. – both intentionally and unintentionally. Biased, misleading, inaccurate or blatantly untruthful media is harmful to journalistic ethics and the trust between the public and their source of information (the news media). This trust in journalists and the information they present is essential in a functioning democracy.
We often don’t realize that we are reading or sharing biased or misleading information. Social media, especially Twitter, is a big player in the proliferation of fake news. In order to help you grasp what kind of information is trustworthy, I’ve put together this article to help you recognize fake news. Once you can recognize it more easily, you can help prevent it from spreading by being conscious of what you share.
DON’T click share without reading the article!
This should be a given. This is the first and most important rule. Social media is an excellent tool for spreading awareness and is how many Millennials get their news. However, it is also one of the biggest players in spreading fake news. Twitter especially spreads the most false information of any social media website. People are really quick to retweet and often do not fact check or even read the article that they might be sharing. Sharing false information often spreads fear and sows divisiveness. This only leads to different sides pointing fingers and denouncing each other. If you don’t have time to read a few articles about the topic, don’t contribute to the conversation.
DO look for sensationalized titles
If the title of an article makes you stop because of how insane it is, there’s a good chance that it’s misleading. Sensationalized titles are usually indicators of misleading information. It is very possible to present information in a way that is misleading – even without telling lies! Responsible journalism is truthful both in its information AND its presentation of the information. Fake news aims to divide and rile people up. Titles that lash out at one side or another are usually indicative of a biased article. A great example is this article from the National Review. A biased article is not inherently false but can be misleading. They are more focused on dividing people and attacking than they are on educating and informing. This is not what true journalism is about, which is why I don’t trust articles with sensationalized titles. Even if they are in favor of my viewpoints.
DO google it!
If you see one article about something crazy on Facebook that friend shared, google it! If it’s legit, you’ll find many articles saying essentially the same things. On the other hand, if you have trouble finding more similar articles, it’s likely biased. A few quick moments of research can make sure that you’re getting accurate information.
DON’T trust only one source
My main source of news is The New York Times. I’m a big fan. However, I don’t read only NYT articles. I get my daily briefings from them, but when I take further interest in a topic, I make sure to read articles from various sources. This ensures that you are seeing various viewpoints. Reading articles from different sources can help you to see biases in other articles, even if they’re small. Bias is really, really hard to avoid. But, being able to spot bias helps greatly in getting accurate information.
DO read a few articles on the topic
This goes with reading articles from different sources. Read multiple articles about a topic! You would never write a research paper using only one article or book. Why? You wouldn’t get enough information to fully understand the topic. Fake news is proliferated when people don’t take the time to check. Writers are just as capable of lying to you as they are of telling you the truth! While no journalist should be spreading fake news, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
DON’T read articles that only present your viewpoint
You’re going to naturally gravitate towards articles that align with your views. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, it’s important to be aware of the other side as well. You can’t properly defend your views unless you understand the other side. I will often seek out articles that offer a different viewpoint just so that I can compare them. Sometimes, this gives me valuable insight. It can help me see flaws in my standpoint that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. This also helps me to sympathize with the other side.
DO look for signs of partisanship within an article
This goes along with the sensationalized titles. Most of the media is not telling blatant lies. Fake news is much more common as bias so it’s important to be able to identify bias. One very clear sign is if the writer is attacking the other side. There is no room for personal opinions in reporting.
Pay attention to who is being quoted in the piece. Are they only talking to conservatives? Only liberals? A journalistic piece is not a persuasive essay. It’s not wrong to have quotes supporting a certain point, but most journalists are taught to address the other side as well. They are taught to find credible quotes and evidence to tell the story and portray the whole picture.
In that vein, pay attention to what is quoted and what is inferred. It’s important to address technicalities that could be real, like the possibility of prosecuting women under Georgia’s heartbeat bill, but it is equally important to address that it is a technicality and only a possibility. The law does not state that women won’t be prosecuted, but it also does not state that they will be. Many articles painted it to look as if women would be prosecuted, simply because there was the possibility. While this is not untruthful, it is misleading.
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