Fake news is everywhere, it seems. From your social media feed to your email, a lot of people find it harder and harder to know what news to trust. But with a few tips and tricks, you can begin to figure out real from unreal and credible from incredible.
Double check your fears
If you see a story with a title like “Baby has a forked lizard tongue … and mom loses it!” you probably think it’s not true. The title alone is so preposterous that it’s easy to see that story as fake. But how about “500,000 pounds of cheese recalled due to Listeria”? This kind of news story may be factual, or it may be playing on your fears regarding the safety of the food you eat.
To verify this kind of story, look for additional proof, like a bulletin from the FDA or a corroborating news story from a major news source.
Look at the domain
News stories from well-known news outlets like WSJ.com (The Wall Street Journal), NYTimes.com (The New York Times), IndyStar.com (The Indianapolis Star) and CBS.com (CBS) are far more reliable than sites like rareearth.com, realfarmacy.com or mothernaturenetwork.com (all pseudoscientific sites making unsupported claims regarding health, nature, medicine and, yes, aliens).
Real news sites have strong editorial procedures in place, post minimally biased news stories and maintain professional codes of ethics highlighting their responsibilities to readers, sources and staff members. Fake news sources don’t.
Look for an author
Sites like zerohedge.com hide their authors’ names under anonymous handles like “Tyler Durden.” Real news outlets, like NPR, provide the names of their reporters with each story. Real reporters stand by their work and have produced plenty of news stories that you can check for yourself.
You can also check the credentials of real reporters by looking them up using a professional search tool like LinkedIn or Opportunity, or by checking the news source’s website in some cases. With fake news, you have no idea if the author of your news article is a real journalist or a random blogger with an ax to grind.
Look for a date
Real news has dates, and breaking news is frequently updated with dates and times. Fake news stories may be dated in the distant past, if they are dated at all. (Conversely, it may be dated with the current hour and minute, which means the website is using a widget to capture your computer’s date and time.)
Another thing to consider is the age of the article. Older news stories, real or fake, may have been superseded by newer, better information, or may highlight an issue that has already been resolved.
Look for sources
If you are reading an article discussing wind turbine syndrome (a series of unrelated physical ailments with no medical proof that people claim are caused by the presence of wind turbines), look for quotes from doctors and links to studies or other well-documented news articles. If you do not see these links or quotes, you should suspect something, but you should also double check.
When double checking, always use good quality sources like published scientific studies, news articles from trustworthy sources and books or journals written by scholars or experts.
Google isn’t always your friend
Let’s say you’re trying to find information to debunk a fake news story. But when you look up a specific claim, your search results all come from other fake news sites, not reliable sources. That’s because Google tends to use your previous searches and page views to predict the kind of information you want to see next.
To avoid this, try using a search engine like Startpage.org, which strips the kind of background information that Google collects, or log out of all of your Google accounts (including YouTube, Gmail and Maps) before using Google to search.
Fake news may appear difficult to tackle, but with a little smart searching and a healthy dose of skepticism, you can find true knowledge under all the fake dross. Remember these tips, and happy searching!
KT Lowe is the instruction coordinator and service-learning library coordinator at Indiana University East.