I had a good career in journalism. My experience should make me an expert at spotting fake news. But the proliferation of information on social media means it’s challenging for anyone to decipher fact from fiction.
I have seen too many Facebook posts go viral, garnering thousands of angry comments, only to discover the story was bogus or repurposed from years ago.
Once, I was shocked to read about feces floating off the Hawaii beaches where my family lives. When I shared the story with my relatives, my direct sources discounted the stories.
Unfortunately, nobody can count on having a personal connection to verify or refute everything she reads. But if general users spent more time digging a little deeper and less time recklessly reposting, online angst might not ignite into a digital wildfire so often.
Facebook has joined the fight. The world’s dominant social network now offers an “educational tool” to weed fake news from current events. The company changed its algorithm to reduce the spread of bogus articles designed to deceive people. However, there is only so much social media platforms can do to identify fabricated stories. Readers must take proactive steps.
Here are five ways to find the facts:
1. Read beyond the headline
A new study reports only four in 10 Americans read more than news headlines. But readers must do more than skim the top if they want to know what’s really going on. Reading several paragraphs — perhaps even a full story! — will help them spot misleading or incomplete headlines. They will also learn more about where information came from, which can help determine if it’s true.
2. Verify the source
Factcheck.org is a valuable resource to filter out false information from reality. Informed readers must stay up to date on a changing media landscape. It can be easy for small groups to publish professional-looking sites with no credibility, so readers must have their guard up. When people see a site with an unfamiliar name, they must ask a few questions, starting with, “Have I ever heard of this source before?” People should also read the website’s About Us section, double check the URL and see if anyone else is reporting the news.
3. Use multiple resources
4. Reframe the picture
Does a photo in the story look fake or seem unlikely? Dig deeper. Upload, drag and drop an image into Google Image to find the image’s origin. Many fake news stories, especially after disasters, take images from movies or previous events and pass them off as current.
5. Don’t take information at face value
Sometimes the news posted online is not new. The information presented is often misrepresented and outdated. Snopes.com has been a reliable reference exposing misinformation and myths for decades. Research the rumors, check the publication date and carefully inspect the domain name to shun out the satires.