How to avoid fake news in 2018

Lies, lies, lies

With all the fake news, staying up to date this past year was like a perpetual conversation with that shifty uncle, the one who was always trying to convince you to run into 7-Eleven and “borrow” a six-pack while he kept the van idling outside. That spectre of incredulity today haunts office life, parties and anywhere else you’d find yourself stuck in a conversation with no tactical egress.

And with fake news, it’s not just the immediate impact. There are more subtle divisions it creates or reinforces among people who should really just be enjoying life together in a land of six-packs and 7-Elevens.

These days, it’s so easy to create a convincing news outlet the pursuit of credible journalism might almost seem futile. Anyone with enough time and bad ideas can fire up their own site and soon be injecting a specious brand of reportage into the national conversation. And that’s exactly why — as we enter yet another year when politics sit top of mind — it’s so important to arm yourself with strategies for avoiding fake news.

Fake News Sign
Photo: Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

Read beyond the headlines

Some reputable outlets are already speculating that the death of journalism will be due to click-bait headlines. While click-baiting isn’t fake news per se, we still land on the same problem when people scan headlines instead of reading stories critically, and then disseminate their “findings.”

Some research suggests less than half of people actually pay attention to the news beyond headlines.

 

And worse, people are sharing stories on social media without really knowing any details — essentially becoming sources of fake news themselves.

Let’s imagine it was a slow news day in Miami when the police scanner crackles: an assault involving a homeless man out of his head on drugs. But let’s also imagine this meh story lands on the desk of a creative, albeit slightly unethical, editor who pens the headline. This station gets a bump in traffic, while across the nation wild-eyed conversations prattle about face-eating cannibals lurking around every corner.

Check facts and sources

All it takes to reach an audience of millions is a website and time to conjure up fake news. It’s so common today that some online presences have even become established sources of fake news, so it’s often not hard to uncover bogus stories just by looking at who published them.

But that’s not all.

Depending on where your allegiances lay, even some mainstream news outlets might seem more fake news than legit based on how they present stories. This gets really problematic when you hear news secondhand, say, in the break room at work.

But of course some stuff that gets presented as news is, in fact, completely false. Fortunately spotting that kind of fake news is a bit more straightforward. There are quite a few sites dedicated to fact-checking, and these are a few of the best:

Do yourself, and your colleagues around the water cooler, a favor and take the time to check facts first.

Fake News Fact Checking Poynter

Check for personal biases

We’ve just discussed how people can get duped into propagating fake news. But when our own sets of beliefs enter the picture, we can just as easily become a source of fake news. It’s called confirmation bias, which creates a pretty bass-ackward way of understanding current events.

Normally someone would objectively round up information from multiple sources, gain an understanding it, and then let that understanding shape their beliefs. But driven by confirmation bias, they start with their (usually uninformed) beliefs, and then seek out information supporting those beliefs.

That’s why two people might be watching the same news program, but have entirely different takeaways from a particular story. So the next time you hear some bold assertion that rubs you the wrong way, just ask what they’re basing it on.

You’d be amazed.

Is it deliberately fake news?

Some of us are like James McDaniel, that guy from Florida who started his own fake news website just for kicks. Basically, he didn’t have any political or fiscal agenda; he just wanted to see how much havoc he could wreak:

“I saw how many fake ridiculous stories were making rounds in these groups and just wanted to see how ridiculous they could get.”~ James McDaniel

You can imagine how all of the topics we just went over might come into play here. It’s almost as if we’ve come full circle since the USS Maine. Hopefully the above strategies prove useful as you plot a course for a fake news-free 2018. (Personally I always turn to America’s finest news source.)


Also published on Medium.

Image by: mikemacmarketing / CC BY

Art Martori
Art Martori thinks words are like chess pieces. While checkers might be more appropriate for the analogy, he’s aided by years of professional writing experience via mediums including content strategy, journalism and fiction. When he’s not typing on a keyboard, find Art strumming the 12-bar blues, restoring vintage road bicycles or training for a new powerlifting personal record.