Vetting Online Stories in the “Fake News” Era

We are, unfortunately, in an era where the term “fake news” has become somewhat of a socially acceptable (yet still grossly misinterpreted) phrase. While nearly everyone has taken sources from the internet with a grain of salt for decades, the past few years have been controversial to say the least, now that the “post-truth era” has commenced.

The unfavorable reality is that our current president is one who has been accused of and caught lying on several occasions. Forgetting about the Russian scandal for a second, or his alleged sexual misconduct, he has lied about simple facts; such as the number of people at his inauguration, or the fabricated correlation between immigration and crime rates.

Now, whether or not everything he has said is entirely factual word for word, vetting this information online can be extremely difficult given the turmoil American politics are in at the moment. With that said, how can you trust a story you come across online?

Skepticism is essential in maintaining factual knowledge. Never should you immediately assume a story you read online is 100% accurate. However, that is not to say that you should dismiss everything you read right away. The answer is to dig deeper, and verify from multiple resources. Find additional publications, stronger evidence, and avoid falling victim to a pushed narrative (that last point being stressed the most).

Today more than ever, both political parties are pushing their own narratives to attempt to disprove or derail the “opposition,” when in reality, no one should be opposing anybody. American politics were founded upon freedom of speech and freedom of beliefs, which should come with a mutual respect between every party. This has now turned into “right and wrong” in the eyes of more extreme party members, but that is rant for another blog. Why that is dangerous should be obvious, but the one I’ll point out for the sake of this article, is that you become oblivious to factual details that can cloud your judgment.

Train yourself to be able to spot false narratives. Propaganda may seem like an issue that was only prominent in the early 20th century during World War II, but it is alive and well, and smarter than ever, making it harder for individuals to actually recognize it. While traditional news sources are more reliable than a blog found in the dark corners of the internet, narratives can still be forced (see CNN, Fox News, etc.), even if they are factually correct. Besides not relying on your Facebook feed for news updates, there are several steps you can take in seeking out untrustworthy sources and stories.

  1. First, if the headline or what you’re reading seems to crazy to be true, it most likely is. Similarly, if it seems so ridiculous that it must be true, that could be a sign of the source effectively playing on your predetermined beliefs.
  2. Find outside sources that are linked out from the article. Chances are, what you are reading was repurposed from its original format, and due to plagiarism and intellectual property laws, that original article is more than likely linked somewhere. Once you find it, see if anything has been changed to alter the context.
  3. Any story that claims something will happen in the future should be immediately discredited to some extent. No news source is psychic.
  4. Any attacks on a certain demographic or group should indicate a heavily biased story, and thus, should not be given your full trust.
  5. Was an opposing idea or someone who disagrees consulted for the sake of argument? This is a great way to validate the original story. Showing that there are multiple sides is a selfless practice that often gives more credit to a news source. Simply focusing on one side and saying those who disagree are wrong does not have strong evidence.
  6. Consider if what you’re reading is actually news or not. This might seem like a no-brainer, but nowadays the “news”, even coming from the President, is not news-worthy at all.

Always remain skeptical when reading stories online, no matter if they are political or not. When diving into a subject or story, try and find as many sources as you can, and form your own opinion without being swayed by a writer on the internet. Strive to learn, and develop an individual mindset in this increasingly challenging world.

Advertisements