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Signs You’re Reading a Fake News Story

Are You Sure?
Signs You’re Reading a Fake News Story

The line between entertainment and news is more blurred than ever.  Politicians are tweeting, anonymous hackers are revealing critical news stories, and readers are caught in the middle.  Your friends and family might be sharing questionable stories on their Facebook feeds, while your coworkers might chat about rumored news in the break room.  This kind of idle gossip is annoying, but not necessarily harmful.  Sometimes, though, fake news is more insidious.  In December 2016, an armed gunman even attacked a pizza shop after becoming enraged by a fake news story that he’d thought was real.  Around the same time a woman threatened the families of children who died in a school shooting, mistakenly believing the shooting was a “hoax”.  Clearly, fake news has the potential to be seriously dangerous.  But how can you tell whether or not a news story is fake?

The most obvious sign of a fake news article is mistakes in the spelling, grammar and punctuation.  Reputable news sources have highly-educated editors on staff who review articles not only for accuracy and reliability but also for attention to the basic rules of writing.  Similarly, no good editor would allow an article’s headline to be in ALL CAPS, or to contain over-exaggerations like “you’ll never believe” or “the shocking truth”.  An article that is full of mistakes or hyperbole hasn’t been checked by a second pair of eyes and was probably also rushed to press without its facts being checked.

But just because an article is written well doesn’t mean it’s reliable.  You should also investigate the website where it was first published.  During the 2016 American presidential election, it was discovered that teenagers in Macedonia were creating fake news sites in order to generate advertising income from visitors to their site.  The smart (but unethical) teens paid no attention to whether or not their stories were true.  All they cared about was getting more traffic to their site and earning more income from their advertisers, and the most shockingly untrue stories tended to be the biggest traffic generators.

So your article is well-written and you’re pretty sure it didn’t come from a cybercafé in Macedonia.  That still doesn’t mean it’s true!  You also need to see if the information in the article has been edited in a way that distorts the truth.  Have quotes been taken out of context?  Some unscrupulous writers recycle quotes from years earlier, about completely different topics, to trick the audience.  Has only one side of the argument been presented?  You’re likely reading an editorial or opinion piece and not a thorough analysis of the issue at hand.  See if you can find out where the editorial author got their information from, and keep working your way back through their sources until you find the original facts about both sides of the issue.

Fake news stories won’t go away overnight, but you can do your part to reduce their impact.  If you find yourself reading a fake news story, it’s okay to call out the author and publisher for their low standards.  Let them know that if you wanted to read a made-up story you would have bought a novel!  It’s also okay to politely tell your friends and family that an article they’ve shared is untrue.  If you’re a parent or teacher, talk to the kids in your life about media bias and help them learn where to go for reliable information.  By attacking the problem of fake news from all angles, you can help make the truth a priority again.

(not my article)

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