Since Donald Trump’s victory in November, “fake news” has been all over the actual news. What is it? Why is it happening? Did it influence the election? In both houses of California’s state legislature, a bill has even been introduced to teach children how to pick out disinformation. That said, those of us who are no longer in the school system have to find our own way to detect fake news, which can be done through this ten-step process:
Have you heard of the news source?
Obviously, you’re not going to find the fake news epidemic on the likes of The New York Times or even CNN, despite what President Trump may say. Of course, major news outlets make mistakes and occasionally mislead the public in some of their reporting – President Trump’s point in that fiery press conference confrontation with a CNN reporter – but that doesn’t make them fake news.
If not, does the webpage look professional?
Trust me, there are some great sites that participate in quality, responsible journalism but just haven’t hit it big or have smaller niche audiences. That being said, sites that fall in that category usually provide contact information, biographies of writers – or at least staff and editors – and have an air of professionalism. You’ll see image credits, detailed descriptions of sources, and cited information. On the other hand, sites like The Daily Sheeple make you cock your head and wonder how anyone thinks they’re reading legitimate news.
What other content has been published on the site?
Like mentioned above, legitimate news sites will have previously posted content that is well-reported and cited. If other articles include the likes of “Hillary Clinton’s Connections to Extra-Terrestrial Beings,” you might want to skip over that particular website.
Does the individual journalist have a legitimate record?
In an increasingly digital age of journalism, a lot of established reporters keep Twitter accounts or even have websites that serve as resumes. For example, New York Times reporters use their personal Twitter accounts almost as news feeds. That said, beware of their personal biases because they often don’t hide them. When reading an article you suspect to be fake news, check out the byline. Has the journalist made a name for his or herself? If not, this obviously isn’t a deal-breaker because there are many up-and-coming journalists out there, but it can be a helpful detail.
Does the news fit in with other coverage of current events?
There’s nothing wrong with a smaller media outlets breaking out of the mainstream media mold to report something that bigger publications simply wouldn’t. But, you have to ask yourself if the narrative makes any sense with other things you’ve seen and heard in the news. News is often ever-changing and hard to follow, but you should be able to deem whether or not an article is describing something that even remotely fits in with current events. Watch out for pieces that sound like a conspiracy theory because that’s often the niche fake news attempts to appeal to.
Is the article at all realistic?
Back to the example of Hillary Clinton communicating with aliens, you have to ask yourself if something could actually happen regardless of circumstances. Of course, the article won’t always be easy to dismiss like this particular example, but if you put your own personal narrative aside for a moment, you should be able to decide if the article is describing a realistic event.
Is the content professionally written?
In the world of quality journalism, publications utilize the AP Stylebook and employ sophisticated writing techniques. Unless it’s a direct quote, most publications avoid a lot of profanity and super informal slang – lol, idk, etc. – unless it’s supposed to be extremely casual for whatever reason. Look for blatant informalities in articles to judge whether or not to trust a site. If the writer isn’t respecting the information, that’s all you need to know.
Does the angle pander drastically to one ideology?
Biased news is definitely not the same as fake news, but extreme bias could be a sign that the news just isn’t true. Especially around the presidential election, fake news stories that really pandered to pre-existing narratives circulated like wildfire on Facebook. Hillary Clinton has a child sex ring in a D.C. pizza place, or Donald Trump once said that Republicans are the dumbest voters in America. Because these stories were off-the-ledge biased, it was easier for some – obviously not all – Americans to dismiss the stories as fake news.
What does a Google search of the publication yield?
So, you’ve exhausted your own brain capacity trying to figure out whether or not an article is lying to you, so use your resources. Because fake news is such an epidemic now, there’s a lot of coverage of fake news sites to bring the issue to the public’s attention. If you Google “fake news sites,” a list comes up right away of untrustworthy publications. Also, even though your professors may warn you against the use of Wikipedia, there’s a helpful graphic of fake news perpetrators here. You could even Google the subject of the article and see if any other reputable sites have covered the news.