How to Tell if You’re Reading Fake News

Photo courtesy of FactCheck.org
Photo courtesy of FactCheck.org

By Amanda Cardini, Staff Writer

In the age of the Internet and social media, word travels fast, quickly and easily. Anyone can look up just about anything in a matter of seconds, and the world wide web will instantly provide millions of resources for perusal. Unfortunately, the ease with which anyone can access the Internet has also provided ample opportunities for anyone to upload anything they want, whether based in fact or not. Although President Trump may have cried wolf a few too many times when it comes to incorrect content, fake news is real and is something to be aware of when reading news articles. So how can you tell if what you’re reading is reliable?

The many types of fake news

Courtesy of Softpedia News

Contrary to the president’s belief, disagreeing with what an article is saying does not make it fake news. However, there are several types of inaccurate reporting to know of and recognize. News that is entirely made up is often the easiest to spot—when your Facebook newsfeed is suddenly filled with “RIP Morgan Freeman” posts that link to websites you’ve never heard of, you may be a little skeptical. Some of these articles are satirical, some contain conspiracy theories and some are just completely fictional. Keep in mind that if a story seems unlikely or fishy, it probably is, and it would be wise to do more research. 

Another type of fake news involves biased reporting. In reality, every news source has some sort of bias. Being aware of common news sources’ biases can help you keep both sides of an issue in mind while reading. The Associated Press and Reuters are two sources that are notoriously unbiased in their reporting, and there are plenty of ways to figure out where your other favorite news sites stand in regards to bias. The chart below shows the various biases of popular news sites. 

Checking bias

Determining and knowing your source is also a good way of checking if an article is actually based in fact. There are plenty of websites that exist solely to provide fake news. Reputable, experience-backed news outlets will generally either be from companies you have heard of or at the very least, sound sophisticated. Websites titled things like “TrueTrumpers.com” or “Stuppid.com” should be easy to target as containing either fake, biased or satirical content. Some fake news websites are less easy to spot as they create titles similar to reputable sources to confuse the reader. The Examiner is one such satirical website not to be confused with the Washington Examiner, a long-standing trustworthy source.

Courtesy of William Healy

Misuse or fabrication of data

If an article calls upon random facts and figures to make its point but doesn’t tell you where these numbers are coming from, it’s a safe bet that you’re not reading valid data. In contrast, some articles may skew real data to make a point contrary to what the data actually shows. Because of this, it’s important to question any claims being made based off of studies, polls or statistics. Most college students have heard the phrase “correlation does not equal causation” meaning that just because two things have been shown to correlate together, does not mean one is the cause of the other. One example commonly used to demonstrate this shows that when ice cream sales rise, so do homicide rates. Rather than assuming that ice cream is turning people into killers, it’s more logical that crime typically rises in the summer when travel, drinking, and leisure are engaged in more frequently. Coincidentally, ice cream sales also rise during summer months.

Click bait

Photo courtesy of GitHub

Many news outlets use headlines (especially on social media) that are specifically designed to pique the reader’s interest and result in more clicks on the article, giving the outlet more page views and more leverage to charge their advertisers. Unfortunately, these headlines often portray something entirely different than what is actually claimed in the article. Never make assumptions based solely off a headline you read on social media; read the entire article to get a full understanding of the claims being made.

When reading any news article, it’s important to think critically and question what you’re reading. Be on the lookout for where any data is coming from, keep in mind the source’s bias, and know whether the outlet has a known history of factual reporting. The best way to get a thorough understanding of a controversial issue or event is to read articles from a variety of news outlets. Learning what both sides of the aisle have to say can help you form a more accurate opinion as well as illuminate the facts.

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