The primary reason that fake news flourishes is because people do not do their due diligence in researching where a claim is originating from before spreading the rumor. You must put in some real investigative work to determine if a headline is blatantly false, true, misleading or simply an opinion piece. Fake news outlets capitalize on the fact that humans are naturally inclined to emotionally react to information before they will truly test the validity of it. Mainstream media and alternative media alike are both guilty of casually tossing in bias or misleading “alternative facts” to appeal to their known reader base. The only way to steer clear of fake news is to investigate the source, verify the story with other sources and seriously examine the author’s claims.
2016 Election “Fake News”
This out-of-control “fake news” phenomena played a major role in the 2016 election. During the first presidential debate of 2016, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton made the bold statement, “Well, Donald, we all know you live in your own reality,” to highlight this glaring fact. Various media outlets including PolitiFact, NPR, Bloomberg TV and FactCheck.org offered real-time live fact checking during the first debate. Each candidate’s respective websites, hillaryclinton.com and donaldjtrump.com, even became live fact-checkers during the debate. The real problem was that each fact checker was so biased that they only served to reinforce the relative reality they were representing in the first place.
One of the most shocking “fake news” stories during the election was the beginning of the now infamous Pizza Gate conspiracy. Rumors that the New York Police Department had found incriminating evidence in John Podesta’s emails that indicated an ongoing democratic involvement in a pedophilia ring caused a major stir in the alternative news community. These claims were never verified, but the rumor continues to provide fuel for independent truth seekers.
Similarly, the mainstream media picked up on and spread an unsubstantiated claim that Trump supporters were chanting hate messages like “We hate Muslims, we hate Blacks, we want our great country back,” as a celebration to Trump’s victory. Upon closer inspection, the original tweet came from a parody fake-news journalist who never intended the message to be taken seriously (http://www.snopes.com/trump-rally-chant/).
Know the Source
If you suspect that an article may be misleading or misrepresenting certain facts, then the first thing you should do is investigate the source of the article. Always navigate to the website’s contact information to build some credibility for the source. Any reputable source will have an authentic way to contact the company.
According to BuzzFeed, the most widely spread fake news story of 2016 was published by ABCNews.com.co and was shared, commented on or reacted to on FaceBook over 2.1 million times (https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/top-fake-news-of-2016?utm_term=.kjLllXzBO#.dyqYYoQwe). At first glance, this source appears credible because it contains the reliable and well-known ABC News stamp. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s clear that this website is a fraudulent site made to look like the real ABC News site.
To the trained eye, the URL of the above article would be a huge red flag. Any “com.co” website should be investigated. Major news companies typically purchase the established “.com” domain name.
This election cycle has thrown into question the legitimacy and bias of some of the most well-respected mainstream news sources. Donald Trump has called CNN a “fake news” source, while others have bashed Info Wars as fake news.
Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College, created a list of “fake news” websites that commonly show up on your Facebook feed to help her students stop the spread of misinformation. Some news sources included on the list were InfoWars.com, Project Veritas, Independent Journal Review, CoastToCoastAM.com and WorldTruth.Tv (http://d279m997dpfwgl.cloudfront.net/wp/2016/11/Resource-False-Misleading-Clickbait-y-and-Satirical-%E2%80%9CNews%E2%80%9D-Sources-1.pdf). The list went viral and furthered the ongoing debate over what should be considered a trusted source.
Chris Rossini published a counter-list of “fake news” sources that singled out journalists who directly colluded with Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Fake news perpetrators included representatives from ABC, Bloomberg, CBS, CNBC, CNN, Huffington Post, NBC, MSNBC, Politico and New York Times (http://www.ronpaullibertyreport.com/archives/revealed-the-real-fake-news-list).
As a rule, know that every single article is written with some bias. The only way to combat consistent bias is to trust your sources, but always verify them.
Trust, But Verify
If the headline story is real news, then it’s likely being reported by other news sources at the same time. In many cases, a simple Google search can quickly verify or debunk a story you read on Facebook. Other well-known and reputable news sources should be reporting the same event or facts. When in doubt, verify a story by comparing it with other sources.
In some cases, corporate media bias or other factors can prevent a story from being covered in the mainstream media. When this happens, alternative media will typically pick up the story and it can still be found on multiple alternative news outlets. Scan the article for indicators of the original source of the story, and use this information to research the original source.
Those who primarily use only a few outlets or news sources are the most likely to fall into a fake news trap. Avoid this pitfall by creating more balance in your news feed. You may not literally “like” Fox News or CNN, but giving them a like on Facebook will help keep your perspective balanced. A more well-rounded perspective will help you recognize when an article is overly biased or glaringly false.
Examine the Author’s Claims
Take the time to examine each of the article’s claims. Is the article mostly opinion based with very few sourced facts? Does the news story include sourced research studies, witness accounts or reports from credible agencies? Fake news stories rarely include any real, provable data or any accounts from verifiable agencies.