How to Spot Fake News Online
Newspapers and TV news programs are becoming a thing of the past as more and more people rely on the internet for their daily dose of facts. However, the number of fake news articles on the internet has reached astounding levels of ridiculousness. You’ll often read articles and pass them on to others without even realizing that they’re made-up.
The open-ended nature of the internet, a place where anyone can say anything they like, is an awesome thing. However, when you rely on the internet for news and facts, this freedom becomes a problem. By staying vigilant and doing your homework, you can ensure that you’re never fooled by these phony news stories.
Where Is Fake News Found?
Social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, due to their high popularity, are common sources of fake news. The short attention spans of many users result in bogus articles spreading like wildfire as people “share” without even reading the articles themselves. A convincing image, paired with a shocking and attention-grabbing headline, is often enough to trick someone into passing the “news” to their friends. Alarmingly, phony news has been known to spread faster than real news!
More and more often, websites are crafted and built to specifically post fake news and deliberately mislead the public. Perhaps, there’s a political agenda involved, such as a desire to manipulate gun control legislation. Maybe it’s a parody news site designed to entertain (though many of these sites provide a disclaimer identifying it as such). Luckily, many watchdog sites provide lists of URLs and sources that have been known to publish fake news.
Spreading the Virus
Why is fake news a problem? Well, in a world where a YouTube kitty-cat video can amass a million views within hours, it’s all too easy for fake news to spread around the globe within minutes. In the past, “news” outlets like The Onion were proud to produce high-quality, endlessly amusing phony news articles. However, everyone knew they were made-up. The website said so! Nowadays, though, fake news tries to pass itself off as real information… and often succeeds. There’s always the chance that there’s someone else’s agenda behind the misinformation.
Fake news is no joke. While it’s difficult to gauge the exact amount of fake articles (and even harder to tell how many people fall for them), one thing is absolutely sure — the proliferation of fake news is a serious problem, and it’s getting worse every year. If millions of people are convinced that the Pope endorses a certain political candidate, it could sway an important election and a horrible orange-hued tragedy could result.
Check the Source
If you question the validity of an online news article, the first thing you should do is a little fact-checking to see who published it. The URL that’s used when posting the article should hold a clue. If it’s CNN, Associated Press, or even online-only sources like HuffPost, the article was probably fact-checked and legit. If it’s some obscure fan page, though, you may want to think twice about taking it seriously.
Of course, there’s always the chance that www.JudyLovesOneDimension.com was the first to discover a lead singer’s suicide. However, do you really think that CBS, The Guardian, and The New York Times missed this one? Search for the same story on legitimate news sites and see if he really did take that fatal dose of Flintstones vitamins.
Doctored images are a key tool when convincing others to believe fake news. If an article is in question, try running a reverse image search on any pictures used. The search will tell you if other websites have used the images so you can verify their legitimacy. It can also help pinpoint images that have been Photoshopped or altered in other ways.
Sticky Spelling, Grungy Grammar, and Clumsy Casing
While grammar (and the English language in particular) can be a complicated mess of rules and inconsistencies, it pays to know when it’s done poorly. Fake news articles are often riddled with grammatical errors that include misspelled words, missing or incorrect punctuation, and run-on sentences.
For instance, you’re wringing your hands after seeing that article about your favorite musician being fatally shot during a botched drug deal. Then you notice that they misspelled his name. You can bet your signed concert poster that the article is fake. Musicians like JAY-Z, Beyoncé, and Ƭ̵̬̊ ) may have names that confound the people at the DMV, but at least it’s easy to spot when a news scammer gets it wrong.
Legitimate news articles are written and edited by professionals who specialize in the English language. Fake articles are usually cranked out by amateurs. Nowadays, you don’t need to be an English professor to spot these errors. Simply download free programs like Grammarly to find the red flags (or in Grammarly’s case, red underlines) that help you hunt down fake news articles.
The Bright Side
Fake news can be pretty entertaining, especially when it’s successful — such as the dihydrogen monoxide scare or the Bonsai Kitten scandal. It’s fun to see your friends duped by fake news and watch their reactions. However, when genuine news that really matters becomes twisted, you need to use your head.
Fake news has at least helped to train people to ask questions and think critically. People no longer take news at face value. In a world where multiple media outlets, such as TV channels, newspapers, and even textbook publishing companies, are owned by the same people that run greedy corporations, it pays to know who’s really behind what’s being said.
If you’re fascinated by the labyrinth of smoke and mirrors created by media manipulation, you’ll love #WarGames. This interactive film experience lets you take control of the action. Join Kelly and her ragtag group of prankster hackers as they lock horns with masters of media deception York News and The Sawyer Report. If you’ve ever wanted to rip apart the web of lies spun by fake news outlets, now’s your chance!