Thoughts x
in an article about fake news, someone looking at their phone on the subway
Photo by Rasheed Kemy on Unsplash

Ultimately, you’re the first line of defense against misinformation.

Many tech conglomerates and social media behemoths have proclaimed themselves the new guardians of information integrity. They have threatened to crack down on all the websites generating fake news and refuse them the right to buy and post ads — and yet everyday news consumers remain the most efficient local weapons against it. If you have identified a piece of false information presented as news and broke the chain of transmission – you didn’t share it on your Facebook, for example – you have contributed a lot to breaking the vicious circle. As it turns out, this is the most anyone can do in today’s information-obsessed world — don’t share the news when you are not sure if it is true. Yes, the rule is that simple.

5 Types of Fake News

Let’s take a moment and focus on the term itself. Although there is no need to give the definition here, it should be pointed out that fake news can take on many different forms.

Here are five kinds of approaches to creating fake news:

  1. Anything for a click (clickbait) aka “Everything for the most scandalous headline.” The purpose here is to grab attention and make a user follow the link. Bright, provocative titles are meant to lure the readers and get them hooked on strong emotions. On the other hand, never stop at the headline – go on reading and finish the article. The author might disprove the title and turn the story upside-down from how it initially seemed. But it’s too late – you’ve already shared it on your Instagram without knowing what exactly you are saying to the world. And never forget that some of those articles can be lies and nothing more.On the other hand, the headings might not involve fake news at all and only mean to get users to click on the link. The author might have just used the most popular search request (like no wager casino Australia), put it in the heading for the sake of SEO promotion, and wrote nothing helpful on the topic.
  2. Anything for an idea (propaganda). The people whose job is to promote a political agenda are very good at making people accept biased perspectives and ideas turned upside-down. Ask yourself, what does the author really want to tell me? Are they trying to persuade the reader that the issue described solely from one angle is true?
  3. Anything for a laugh (joke, satire, parody). Some news and pictures start out as jokes. They might look too good and pass for real news. Hundreds of people, hooked on a strong emotion it triggers, share it with everyone they know without reading the article; by midday, half the planet is discussing the first alien on Earth brunching with the Queen of England.
  4. Nothing for hard work (lazy journalism). Some fake news stems from ordinary laziness. Journalists who don’t do proper research or fact-checking are capable of producing monsters as scary as propaganda Frankenstein monsters. And they don’t do anything special – they just do their job negligently.
  5. Intent disinformation. This is everything that is purely bogus. People might create and share fake or misleading stories on purpose and often for the sake of power, opinion manipulation, or financial benefits.

This article has painted a portrait of fake news with rather broad brushstrokes; there are many more little iterations of the idea in the media. The features are not always easy to recognize, but easy doesn’t mean impossible, does it?

What should I do?

Fake news is dangerous. It makes people feel confused, unreasonably righteous, or, on the contrary, unfairly angry with someone or something. It has the power to ignite and stir inside and outside social conflicts. Fake news deserves to be stopped, or, at least, not shared by those who have critical thinking abilities.

If you don’t want to watch bogus stories spreading like swarms of locusts and devouring the last grains of truth, here are seven simple steps to follow before believing or sharing a news piece on your social media.

  1. Check the source. If you have found a news piece on an unfamiliar webpage, you’d better screen the “Contact” or “About Us” sections, and look for disclaimers noting that the posted information might be satire or should be taken as a joke. Look closer and you might find websites that call themselves “satirical news websites” or “One Of The Top Ranked Websites In The World for New World Order, Conspiracy Theories and Alternative News” (these are not made up, by the way). These names are often right there, on the home page. In the end, it’s all about you, the reader, and, your attention to detail and eagerness to search for the truth.
  2. Check the URL. Some websites are created to mimic legitimate news sites, and the URL is what can tell them apart. For example, compare the two URLs: abcnews.com versus abcnew.com.co. The second one is the copycat.
  3. Take a closer look at the headline. Does it sound too emotional and outrageous? How does it correlate with the content of the article?
  4. Check the writing itself. Does the article look sloppy? Are there a lot of typos? Do you think a professional has worked on the text?
  5. Use media literacy websites. To check images, use Google Reverse Image Search, and for fact-checking, use Snopes.com, Factcheck.org, PolitiFact, BBC Reality Check, etc.
  6. Check who else shares or discusses the story. Are there any trustworthy sources like BBC, a local official news portal, legitimate organizations, and so on?
  7. Is it meant to be a joke? Again, read the article until the end before sharing to get the whole picture.

The superheroes of today don’t fly; using their superpower of critical thinking, they try to diminish the amount of malarkey on the internet. Let’s all join the squad and help protect the information environment we live in.

Leave a Reply