What is Fake News and How Can You Avoid It?
The downside of having the news at our fingertips is that not all news is true news..
I'm not a political blogger, nor do I write about sides or he said/she said, but the same can’t be said for everyone else. Unfortunately, much of the news and article-based media online comes from entities that have political agendas and are actively trying to promote that in their content. For the less-than-inclined reader of online content, it can be easy to take these news sources at face value and derive conclusions that are not the complete story at best, and downright wrong/harmful at worst. Luckily, there are people and companies dedicated to simplifying the messages from these news-worthy events, social media accounts, and other publication sources that disseminate "information" to the masses.
In definition, fake news is essentially untrue information presented as news. It often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity, or making money through advertising revenue. Unfortunately, due to the shareability factor of digital content, this type of false information is highly susceptible to mass consumption through message forwarding, reposts, and other types of viral activity. So today, I want to share several strategies for identifying and avoiding fake stories, fake news sites, and more. Warning: your favorite activist Twitter account might not make the cut.
1. Use apps that strive to demystify fake news
Much of what goes into creating fake news is the way that information is presented. Example- someone trips and spills a hot coffee on an unsuspecting bystander. One side of the story talks about the unfortunate occurrence of the coffee drinker's difficult morning having lost his glasses and injuring his knee, which then led to an accidental trip over a parking lot curb, sending a hot coffee flying onto someone passing by. The other side of the story could read something like "aggressive mobster attacks innocent bystander with boiling coffee as a hate crime". Dramatic, but this illustrates the variety of opinion about how a story played out. The latter story is a much more enticing sell, but it is likely to be less than factual.
There are apps in the market that dedicate themselves to presenting information as factually as possible. NITL (News In Three Lines) is one such example- that takes emerging news stories and simplifies them into factual content (ie person spills hot coffee on bystander, lawsuit ensues) and presents them to readers in just three lines, hence the name. The app is focused on pressing topics like climate change, feminism, political bias and is totally free and you can start using it today on their website.
First tip: empower yourself with technology like the NITL app, that strips away misinformation.
2. Avoid news with incriminating headlines
News is meant to be factual, but so much of what we see today in headlines has to do with blaming others (they did, she said, he committed, etc) and while some of the things people are accused of are real and legitimate, the headline acts as a clickbait for readers, and publishers are well aware of that. Thanks to the preview features on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, news networks know that they can draw people in to their websites by presenting shocking content that makes the reader want to click to learn more. The result? A never ending battle of who can write the most shocking headline to draw readers in- it's been like this since the olden days of newsprint!
Next time you see an article with a headline that focuses blame in a potentially hostile way, there's a good chance that the content is going to be compromised and written with an agenda in mind, other than just sharing news. NOTE: the agenda might very well be fair and just, but if we’re talking about unbiased news content, then we need to strip away the accusations and boil it down to just the facts. News publications on social networks that write unbiased headlines on the other hand, are usually much more factual to what really happened.
Second tip: Stay alert for targeted claims in news headlines.
3. Use browser extensions while browsing news on the web
This tip only applies to desktop news browsing, but with easier website browsing comes more opportunity to come across fake news websites. Much like the apps on the market that help mitigate the spread of fake news, there are browser extensions available that help identify false stories as well as political slants, financial incentives, and more. Search engines are not capable of disseminating this information on their own just yet, unfortunately.
Browser extensions like NoBias help identify websites that are pushing information from a selected agenda, as an example. It's not just politics that find involvement in fake news stories though, virtually every type of digital media is put in the hot seat and slanted in some way, by people and news organizations who benefit from the spreading of misinformation.
Third tip: Use browser extensions like NoBias to actively monitor news websites for bias.
4. Watch the reactions/shares/likes of news content on social media
The benefit of having a social community is that bad media can very easily get called out by the masses, so long as there is fair visibility on the fake news posts to all sides of the story (that's an entirely different conversation that we won't get into today). If a Facebook post from a news company is saturated with Facebook users dropping angry emoji reactions, you can probably assume there's something going on with the content of that post- depending on what the angry emojis are a response to.
Another important social queue for fake news is an unequal distribution of likes/comments/shares/etc. Most social media platforms allow companies to pay for boosted exposure- which means the likes you're seeing might be from fake accounts. This was a big deal during the 2016 election with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, where Russia was accused of infiltrating social media platforms like Facebook and boosting engagement of certain parties content, in their best interest. Social networks are designed to promote the content that is getting the most engagement, so if a political agenda post gets thousands of shares, it's much more likely to be seen by more people- an obvious problem in the battle of digital truth and legitimacy.
Fourth tip: Watch for potentially fake engagement behavior on news related posts.
In conclusion, fake news will continue to exist, so long as there are entities that are financially benefiting from supporting a particular candidate, client, movement, etc. Instead of trying to change the system, we need to equip ourselves with tools that allow us to digest the content that’s good, and discard the content that’s bad. Apps that simplify the news for us, browser extensions that give us indication of where an article's allegiance lies, and some old fashioned personal inquire, can go a long way in the quest for information fidelity.
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