In the past week since the U.S. presidential election, there’s been an increase of discussions about fake news stories. Whether or not they played a role in determining the outcome of the election will be difficult to determine, but it’s clear that false information in the disguise of credible news has been on the rise, and is spreading fast. Even Google got in on the act, displaying news results that were false:
Shortly after this happened, both Google and Facebook have said they will do their best to prevent promotion of false news stories. But that doesn’t mean they’ll go away completely. So what can we do?
Communication professor Melissa Zimdars from Merrimack College was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education about increasing and improving media literacy — the ability to critically analyze a piece of news. Here are some tips from her (these are all taken from a document she created that had a list of fake news sources; the document is still available but the list of sources has been removed while it’s being updated and edited); the bolding is mine:
- Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources
- Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
- Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
- Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
- Some news organizations are also letting bloggers post under the banner of particular news brands; however, many of these posts do not go through the same editing process (ex: BuzzFeed Community Posts, Kinja blogs, Forbes blogs).
- Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
- Bad web design and use of ALL CAPS can also be a sign that the source you’re looking at should be verified and/or read in conjunction with other sources.
- It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.
Some more thoughts from the PSC Library:
- Don’t indiscriminately retweet or reblog or repost. Take a moment to investigate the story being told.
- Don’t be fooled by professional looking presentations! More and more people are skilled in making website and graphics. Instead, take some time to look at the source of the article or story.
Lastly, beware of confirmation bias, or “When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true.” Webster University professor Julie Smith has dedicated her career to media literacy and debunking fake news stories, and she makes her concern over confirmation bias very clearly in her post-election post. She says:
I feel we have entered into an age where truth no longer matters. We are in a post-truth world.
We are so compelled to believe the worst of one candidate and the best of another, that we are incapable and unwilling to entertain any critical thought.
We are more interested in what we believe rather than what is true.
For more examples of confirmation bias — and how to critically evaluate news sources — visit Julie’s website.
Critical analysis of news — of any information — has always been important. But now, it may be even more important. Do your part to be informed.