5 Ways To Spot Fake News
I’m a professional writer. To do my job properly, I have to research stuff. That I can find almost everything I need on Google these days makes research quicker but more dangerous. In theory, anyone can say anything online; anyone can edit a Wikipedia article or quote something out of context to suit their own agenda.
Ever-more sophisticated information doctoring such as this ‘deepfake’ video of ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ (in inverted commas because it’s not really him) are only going to make finding puddles of truth in the flood of fake news harder.
However, there are some fairly basic ways you can evaluate the memes and articles your racist aunt, woke vegan cousin or conspiracy-loving co-worker keep posting on Facebook:
‘Apparently’ has been appearing more and more in viral social media posts over the last year or so. It’s basically a get-out clause which says “I can’t prove this is true, but I’m going to say it anyway”.
Whilst things that are ‘apparently’ (or ‘allegedly’) true might be true, they have not yet been verified and more information is needed.
This is most true when you see phrases like ‘apparently [insert name here] doesn’t want you to see this post.’ When you see that, it’s more than likely untrue – check out this article debunking such a viral Facebook post and note the use of the word ‘apparently’ in the example.
2: THE SOURCE’S SOURCE?
When you read a statistic, it may sound impressive or be presented impressively. More importantly it might back up what you believe. But where’s the proof?
Here’s a great example to look at:
There is a statistic: “Ever year 15,000 acres of land is built upon due to mass immigration.”
Let’s ask ourselves the following questions:
· What land? Where? In one country? A continent? The whole world?
· Who measures the land lost and links it specifically to mass immigration?
· Where has this information come from?
As there’s no source to answer these questions we can either believe it, dismiss it, or do a bit of research to prove or disprove it.
I tried Googling variations on “15,000 acres immigration” and got nothing mentioning such a figure in relation to immigration. Then I tried “15,000 acres building” and got nothing from that either. Isn’t it likely that such a large statistic would have a solid reference that was relatively easy to find? A report from a trusted institute such as a university? An article on a news site?
In cases where there are dramatic statistics with no reference, it’s wisest to dismiss them immediately as fake news.
In this case, the only other explanation is that Google has managed to suppress every single mention of this statistic on the internet. At that point, as Captain Mainwaring used to say in Dad’s Army: “you’re living in the realms of fantasy”.
3: WHO’S SHARING?
Who’s sharing the post and why? If someone shares a link to an article, check out where it’s being shared from. The lines between fact and opinion are becoming increasingly blurred, as is the amount of information wilfully taken out of context. It’s therefore important to be able to recognise what is fact, what is opinion and the context in which it is presented.
A few years back, far-right group Britain First were getting a lot of shares, often from people who didn't realise who Britain First were. More than once I had to inbox friends to explain to them and each time they were horrified to learn that they'd shared something from such a group.
If you don't recognise the name of the page whose post you're sharing, or if it seems a bit dodgy, then maybe click on their page and check them out first. If that seems too much like hard work, maybe you should at least think twice about sharing it?
Personally I’m wary of anything shared by sites with names like worldtruth.org, openmindz.biz, spiritsawaken.tv etc. Not that I’ve got anything against hippies but, in my experience, such websites (usually peddling articles with click-bait headlines such as ‘Doctors Don’t Want You To Know This About Cannabis’ or ‘Hemp Oil Cures Alzheimer’s’) are often posting pseudo-scientific blogs and presenting them as news.
Articles from newspapers or TV stations are generally more truthful, but are by no means exempt from getting their facts wrong.
4: NEWS OR OPINION?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that all news outlets, from blogs to established newspapers will generally have an editorial bias towards the left or right. This bias can affect how they present news to you. For instance, in the UK the Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and Times all lean to the right. Because of this they have been vociferous in trying to show left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the worst possible light. Other papers, such as The Guardian and Daily Mirror, lean more to the left and so have generally taken a more sympathetic view of Jeremy Corbyn.
To illustrate this; here are two UK front pages from the same day (11th May 2017) covering the Labour Party manifesto:
Same basic facts presented in different ways. In the Daily Mail, the Labour Manifesto is a 'suicide note', in the Daily Mirror it will 'fix rip-off Britain'.
The same rule applies to blogs, however much they chime with what you believe. Blogs/Facebook pages such as Another Angry Voice will present a left-wing view of events; Guido Fawkes will present a right-wing view of events.
It's important to say that editorial-led news is not automatically fake news. What it means is that, as the two papers above show, they might interpret facts differently. This won't change the facts, but it might affect how people see them.
A NOTE ON BBC BIAS
A side note to this is that both left and right believe the BBC is biased against them:
Right-wing journalist (and ironically a BBC presenter) Andrew Neil accuses the BBC of left-wing bias: https://www.culturematters.org.uk/index.php/culture/tv/item/2947-culture-punch-the-bbc-s-right-wing-bias
‘Broad left’ website Culture Matters accuses the BBC of right-wing bias (including Andrew Neil): https://www.culturematters.org.uk/index.php/culture/tv/item/2947-culture-punch-the-bbc-s-right-wing-bias
This is a fascinating area which deserves a whole article to itself. For now it’s enough to say that it’s worth bearing in mind every time you see something claiming BBC bias.
5: READ THE DAMN ARTICLE
How many times have we seen an article as we’ve been scrolling down Facebook or Twitter and reacted in some way (liked/disliked/commented/shared) without actually reading the article to see if its attention-grabbing headline is accurate?
This one’s quite simple: Before you react to the headline, read the story and apply steps 1-4!
(c)2019 Shaun Patrick Hand, Scritti Creative Copy.