The influence of social media and the sheer reach of information — both true and false — is dominating headlines and the collective public conscience. Most recently, false stories surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election spread like wildfire, causing many to question the power of social platforms such as Facebook, when it comes to the spread of bogus news. While we can’t control the click-crazy groups sharing half-truths online, what we can control is the content we share and, we can teach our kids to do the same.
With so many people now consuming their news from platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the need to carefully scrutinize sources, content, and story tone is becoming more imperative. Think about fake news this way: If you read an intriguing news story labeled “breaking news” that sounds like a serious news story, then share that story on your personal platforms, if that information is false, you are just as guilty as the bogus source. There’s much responsibility in commandeering even the smallest social channels these days — especially when cyberbullying, slander, and plagiarism becomes more prevalent in our digital culture.
Think about fake news this way: If you read an intriguing news story labeled “breaking news” that reads like a serious news story, then share that story on your Facebook page, if that information is false, you are just as guilty as the bogus source. Do it enough and eventually you lose your credibility, thus your voice and reach online. There’s much responsibility in commandeering even the smallest social channels these days — especially when cyberbullying, slander, and plagiarism are becoming more prominent in our digital culture.
Does it take more time to dig into a source? To trace a news story? Sure. But it’s well worth it and makes for a more trustworthy web and more savvy, honest digital citizens.
10 ways to spot and stop bogus news stories:
- Before sharing a piece of content double, even triple check the article’s source. Google the headline (or subject) to see if the story appears in other reliable publications. If it’s isolated “breaking news,” and it coming from a sketchy source outside of the mainstream media, then it’s (likely) not breaking news. People creating fake news are getting more sophisticated creating stories that look, sound, and incite.
- Be especially diligent in checking sources during times of national tension when tempers are running high. Often false stories are planted to by special interest groups to fuel one side or the other of a social crisis. Teach kids to think carefully before sharing such information. When in doubt — don’t share, post, or publish.
- Look for sensational stories that mix real news articles in with completely made-up stories in an attempt to appear credible. Also look for outrageous ads on the page. Reliable news outlets will not have weight loss pills or celebrity gossip blog posts flanking legitimate news coverage.
- Before sharing ask: Who is saying this? Is this organization credible? Is the information biased (fact or opinion)?
- Discern objectivity. In any news story that is credible, there will be two opposing viewpoints. A quick Google of sources quoted will render titles and authenticity of sources. Objectivity simply means to be fair to both sides of an issue.
- Look closely to see if the story is a sponsored post. More and more, websites are designed to look like legitimate news sites but are sponsored by special interest groups.
- Google the author’s name and see what other works he or she has published. If you can’t find the author elsewhere and it’s a “big” story, chances are the author is not using his or her real name. Sometimes a fake article will be void of an author’s byline altogether.
- Evaluate the article’s tone and purpose: Is this written objectively to inform and educate or is it written with biased and designed to persuade or incite the reader?
- Verify date. Many times fake stories will not have a publish date attached, but a credible article will always have a date.
- Assess image quality, the number of clicks, and overall layout. What is the quality of the graphic images? Does the “news” site feel cluttered? Do the story images enhance the resource or distract from the content? How many clicks did it take to get the desired information? Often, fake stories will be overpopulated with ads or presented in slide shows that make room for more popup ads. Getting multiple clicks out of a user helps a sensationalized website wit its ad sales.
A few places to check facts:
- About Urban Legends
- Urban Legends Online
- Urban Legends and Folklore
- Truth or Fiction
- Straight Dope
So are you feeling like a digital detective yet? Sadly, along with all the good of the Internet comes the time-consuming task of fact-checking. Commit to sharing the truth, checking facts, and teaching your kids responsible posting habits when they are young. Take the time to convey the value that when false information moves from person to person, individual, and community integrity becomes compromised. Advise kids to be skeptical of celebrity death reports, free giveaways, shocking political claims, and any scandalous story from a questionable source.