‘Fake news’ is not a new phenomenon, but within the last two years its prevalence in the public consciousness has exploded as one of the primary contributing factors to the concept of the ‘post-truth’ society. In an age when most of us get our news from social media feeds we encounter fabricated news stories on a near daily basis, and the best way to avoid falling for them is to consistently exercise one’s critical thinking capabilities and to be unafraid to perform a little detective’s work whenever you encounter something questionable. Here are some basic steps you can take to help you determine if whatever news you’re reading, watching, or listening to has any basis in reality.
- Check out one of the many well-reputed fact-checkers out there. Chances are if it’s a big story they’ve already taken a very close look at it and will have a verdict on hand. FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, and Snopes.com should be in everyone’s bookmarks.
- Keep your own biases in check. The reason why fake news has become so rampant is because it plays so well to the very human tendency to trust information that confirms our beliefs and to discount everything else (confirmation bias). When you encounter a piece of news that seems as if it were nearly tailor-made to appeal to you, take the time to check out other pieces published by the same website. Do they all appeal to you in the same way, or do any of them do the opposite? Either of these situations should raise a red flag.
- Check if the piece you’re reading/watching/listening to is satire. Sometimes this isn’t always made clear, and you may need to go through a few clicks or do some Googling to find out of this is the case.
- Check the date! Sometimes things that were true no longer apply, and some sites will link to older news items, treating them as if they are up-to-date.
- Check sources. Don’t just look for citations within the piece itself–go to the actual sources themselves, if possible, in order to determine the credibility of the source, or even if it actually exists at all.
- Check the author. What else have they lent their name to? Does their biography seem legitimate?
- Check the publisher against a list of known fake news peddlers. Snopes.com has an excellent up-to-date list (as of 7/26/2017).
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