Today’s world has changed, and as people fight for a free press that reports truth, fake news abounds. Today’s youth are growing in an environment where they are surrounded by fake news through multiple media, making it difficult to discern what is truth. Social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can promote conspiracy theories and false stories that spread like wildfire. With 24/7 cable news channels and the ability for anyone to get on YouTube and host a radio show, it should come as no surprise that we have a fake news problem. Conspiracy theorists have millions of subscribers and tried and true journalists are scoffed at, ridiculed, and looked over. To make matters even more complicated for the next generation, both sides of the political spectrum claim to be purveyors of real news while the other is fake. The old adage “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” still reigns true, but unfortunately, just believing that your side is true doesn’t change facts. There will always be an absolute truth, and in today’s world, those who want to know the truth will have to dig for it through heaps of fake news stories, images, and viral videos.
You can no longer simply put on the television, read a newspaper, access a YouTube channel that describes itself as news, and remain confident that you are receiving the truth. Fake news abounds and only those who are determined to search out the truth will ever find it. It is disconcerting that the United States, the country founded on freedom of the press, has devolved to such a place where freedom of speech has convoluted pure journalism. Freedom of the press is the guarantee that every American citizen will be free of a tyrannical government. In the new millennium, however, freedom of speech overrides freedom of the press, and some believe if they see something published, that makes it fact. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, we as Americans enjoy freedom of speech and everyone can get on his or her platform and share their point of view and their beliefs. But that will never equate to the power and protection that every American is guaranteed by a free press that reports the unadulterated truth. In today’s world, the freedom of the press is not only trampled on, but it has also been run into the ground and is at the risk of becoming extinct.
No one will come to save the press from fake news. It is impossible. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are at war with each other and the only way to know the truth is to become a fact checker. If you want to know true news from fake, you will have to become your own researcher and your own fact checker.
You may have noticed that both sides of the political spectrum will say the same thing, only with different meaning and intent. It’s common for fake news to use a popular quote that a political figure has said and then take the quote out of context. It is then easily manipulated, twisted, and fought over by pundits to politicians. One quote can be taken out of context and have disastrous results. In order to determine the truth, you have to dig for facts. You have to look at sources. You have to learn how to read a paragraph in its full context. The danger with fake news is enhanced in today’s modern era because it is easy to share a false story in seconds. Not only are fake stories shared, but they can also become interactive with hundreds of thousands of people commenting, sharing, and providing their own opinions. This can make a fake story look credible. When people see that a story has been shared countless times and other people are verifying the story as fact, they can easily become convinced that what they are reading or watching is true. Just because a story is shared or goes viral does not mean it is factual. Regardless of how many people like, comment, and share it, fake news is and always will be fake news.
The Poynter Institute’s website has a wonderful section regarding fact checking and even includes an online course that people may take to develop their fact-checking skills. If you want to avoid believing and sharing fake news, you will have to think like a journalist, and Poynter can help you develop the skills and tools needed to spot a fake news story. Researching a fake news story is the best way to determine whether it is true or false. With resources like Poynter, PolitiFact, and FactCheck.org, you can learn how to research stories and ensure you aren’t victimized by fake news outlets.
In today’s modern world we see the president and press at odds with each other. Never before has there been such a divide between the president and the press that covers White House events. It’s been said that President Trump doesn’t use the news to convey information to the public as in past administrations, but instead becomes the subject of the news. It is now more imperative than ever that the public fact checks every statement, tweet, post, news report, blog post, video, and more before choosing what to believe and ultimately share. This isn’t a matter where someone just repeats a falsehood without any consequences. Conspiracy theories can be deadly as we learned in Dec. 2016, when a man opened fire in the Washington, D.C., pizzeria Comet Ping Pong, as NPR reported. Every time a conspiracy theory or fake news report is shared, there is a dangerous risk that an unstable person may act upon the falsehood. The following are tips that will help readers discern when something is fake news or real.
First, check the source. Whenever you hear or read something that you aren’t sure is true, compare the statement with multiple sources. Ask yourself where the statement originated and if it is based on fact or opinion. If it is opinion and there are no legitimate resources to back up the claim, then it is fake news. Fake news sources may be websites, blogs, videos, or even someone’s opinion. Many people use Facebook and Twitter as their personal ranting platform and that doesn’t mean what’s being posted or tweeted is grounded in fact. Often it is not, and unfortunately, the days when public figures retract misleading statements have long passed by.
Ask yourself if the source is anonymous. This is a trick used by fake news on multiple platforms. The truth is there is no source for the story and they have simply made up a falsehood. Then they report the source didn’t want to be identified or has chosen to remain anonymous. This gives a fake news outlet freedom to write whatever they want without verification. There are situations where real journalists will protect the identity of their sources, but in those cases, there are other facts and even additional sources to back up and verify the claim. Fake news sites cannot prove their sources or stories because they are false. Always verify whether what you are hearing or reading has a verifiable source.
If you are getting news from the internet or a video platform such as YouTube, research the organization. Are they legitimate? Have they made false or fraudulent claims in the past? Ask yourself what their overall reputation has been and whether they are purveyors of legitimate, truthful information or if they have a record of deceit. Just because you like the way someone speaks or looks on video or TV does not mean they are speaking the truth. Do due diligence before wasting your time listening to fake news sources. If they have a website, determine if it looks legitimate. Check the site’s URL as fake news sites will often attempt to legitimize themselves by appearing as a genuine news source when they aren’t.
If a political figure, journalist, or publisher quotes someone or a study, research the quote or study for yourself. Just because someone says something happened in a study doesn’t mean it is accurate or truthful. Check polls for yourself and then check the source of the poll. Fake news can use real quotes and studies but present them in a false manner. They may give you fake poll stats as well. Don’t just listen to the information given but check for comments, quotes, studies, statistics, and polls on your own. Always read in context as most quotes, studies, polls, and comments can easily be taken out of context and used to mean something it was never intended for.
Be wary of clickbait when on social media. Many times articles and posts will pass through social media networks with a shocking headline or title. You might often find a fake photo with a sensational headline in order to lure readers into clicking a link. Often these posts aren’t even clicked on, but people may believe the headline or photo. People look at the title and think they have the full story. Do a quick Google search and see if the title is legitimate or if it was an attempt to lure people to click on a site. Don’t let sensational headlines and outrageous photos fool you into believing fake news is real. Think of how many rumors and hoaxes you’ve recognized on social media sites, or how many have fooled you in the past. How many times was an actor falsely reported dead? Fake news today is no different than the rumors and hoaxes prevalent on social media. The only difference is they have crossed over into politics.
We are in dangerous times and it is more important than ever before to discern fake news from truth and facts. With these tips and the tools provided by resources such as Poynter, PolitiFact, and FactCheck.org, we can all develop the skills needed to separate the facts from fake news.
[Featured Image by stoatphoto/Shutterstock]