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Fake News: How to Check Your Facts

In this article, Fake News: How to Check Your Facts, we will define the term fake news and discuss the importance of differentiating between opinion and truth.

6:29 min read
  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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Fake news is essentially false information that is presented as true and appears at first glance to be from a trustworthy source. 

But don’t believe all that you read.

In this article, we will define the term fake news and discuss the importance of differentiating between opinion and truth. 

We will also look at the influence of social media and the internet, and we will share some questions which will help you can gain the necessary tools for evaluating and determining the credibility of the information that you consume. 

What is the Goal of Fake News:

The goal of fake news is to intentionally mislead the consumer by presenting untruths as truth in order to:

promote a personal or political agenda
attract attention to an event or product
further an opinion or point of view 
make money or gain power
spread conspiracies and fear.

What Characterizes Fake News?

Facts that are inaccurate or cannot be verified.
Biased information.
Writing styles that are overly dramatic, emotional, or sensational.
Inaccurate or exaggerated headlines.

Where can Fake News be Found?

The rising popularity and use of the internet has made fake news more accessible and easier to spread.

Although inaccurate information can be unknowingly spread by word of mouth, passed along innocently as breaking news or truth, fake news is spread knowingly, with an intent to manipulate or harm in some way.
Fake news can be found in printed media as well as in media that is broadcasted on the radio and television. It is predominantly found on the Internet, in online publications, on online social media platforms, and on online videos, podcasts, and messaging. 

Fake news can be found in the political arena (think: elections) but it can also be seen in healthcare (think: COVID 19), economics (think: budgets), and education (think: curriculum decisions and bans), to mention a few. 

The Influence of Social Media and the Internet

The Internet has changed the standards for fact checking. 

Today, the Internet and social media have made publishing easy, from sharing blogs and vlogs on social platforms to online news publications and magazines. It has allowed enormous amounts of information to be quickly passed from consumer to consumer, becoming accessible to virtually anyone who has online access. Although much online information is credible, there are many unsupervised, unchecked avenues that are available to anyone and everyone. 

The line between opinion and fact has faded. We literally do not know who we can believe. 

Journalism and the Spread of Fake News

Traditionally, journalism had a defined and strict tradition of rules and standards regarding truth and ethics in reporting. 

Many Journalists still do their job excellently, with meticulous fact checking habits and reputable sources. But journalists can also be unprofessional and sloppy, not verifying their facts and using skewed sources that relay information that serves their own ends and purposes. 

For example, social media sites might present information and viewpoints that are shocking, with the intention of increasing the number of views on their site. This type of media is not necessarily accurate or good journalism. 

In another example, political propaganda serves to further certain political viewpoints or agendas. 

Opinions vs. Facts

It is important to be able to delineate between opinions and facts.

When we give our opinions, we are communicating very important information, based on our perspective, our personal history, our education, and our experiences. But our opinion is not necessarily the only truth; it is not necessarily based on fact. 

When we read something or hear something, let’s ask ourselves, “Is this someone’s opinion or is this a fact?”

How to Check the Facts: 8 Questions to Ask

We can learn to be habitual, conscientious consumers of the information that we receive. We simply need to answer the question, “Is this information an opinion or is it fact?” 

Here are eight additional questions to ask when you are checking the facts: 

1. Who is the Author?
*Can you clearly find the author’s name and affiliations?
*Can you check this author’s credentials? 
*Does she or he have profiles on social media platforms?
*If you search them on Google or LinkedIn, what do you learn? 
*Is this person an expert on this subject? 

If not, assume that the information is an opinion and not necessarily true.

2. What is the Source?
*Follow the links provided. Does it lead to a real publication with real writers? 
*Does it have an About Us or About Me section? 
*Does this publication provide contact information? 
*Does it have a Board with real people as members?  
*Does it give access to past issues? 

If not, view it as opinion that is not necessarily reputable. 

If the links are inactive or lead to irrelevant sites, or if there are no links available, assume that the information is not necessarily true. 

3. What lies beyond the headline?
*Is this headline sensationalist and exaggerated? 
*Is the headline supported by more information in the body of the piece or is it just an empty statement?

Don’t assume that a flashy headline is representing fact; it could be a hook to grab your attention and lure you into the biased article. 

4. Can the goal of the article be defined?

*Does the article want to teach you something? 
*Does it want to present a certain bias, a slant?
*Does this article want you to do something, to buy something, to click on something, or to contact someone? 

The article may have an underlying goal. That's fine but view the information with this underlying goal in mind.

5. Can this news or information be duplicated?
*Check other sources. Can you find this information on other sites or publications? 
*If you google the basic facts, are they accurate and can they be reproduced? 

If you cannot verify this information, consider that it may be an opinion and not necessarily true. 

6. Is this news timely?
*Check the dates. Is this current news or did it happen days, weeks, or even months ago? 
*Is this news still relevant?

7. Is the author being serious?
*Is this news site a parody or a satire that is presented as real news?

Obviously, these are opinions that can often be mistaken for fact.

8. Are the pictures and images credible?

*Just as the written word can be fake news, so can an image or a photo be an opinion, even a lie. Can the information that the picture is sharing be verified?
*Does it represent real people, places, and incidents? 

Consider that a picture can be an expression of someone’s artistic expression, not to be interpreted as real or factual. 

Final Thoughts

Let’s not trust everything that we see and read. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Let's pay attention to how we present information to our family, friends, and colleagues.
Let's try to be aware of when we are communicating opinion and when we are sharing facts.

Let’s check our own beliefs and biases, cultivating a sense of open-mindedness when we are reading information; let’s pay attention to information that is new and surprising, not only information that confirms what we already know. 

If we are not sure that the information is factual, we can view it as opinion, as subjective - certainly valuable in its own right, but not truth.

And if we don’t agree with someone’s opinion, should we assume that the information fake news? The answer is emphatically, no!

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