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While many credible journalists and publications use social media as a way to share news stories, other groups are using these platforms to spread “fake news.” These outlandish web articles are using made-up information to damage individuals or advance a particular agenda. This proliferation of fake news casts doubt on almost all news online, making it harder for social media users to separate the untruth from the truth.

Anyone can call themselves a reporter and make an online article look authentic, so it’s easy to get fooled. Any credible journalists will share arguments on both sides of an issue, but those who push “fake news” only have their plan and are not worried about accuracy or balance.

The best way to approach online media is to ask yourself specific questions before sharing posts to ensure the report is accurate.

Who is the publisher? It is probably factual if the news is supported by a credible source, such as a news publication or research institution. But if the information was cited from a Twitter account or public figure whose credibility is not well-established, reconsider it. Even people who claim to have expertise can lie to support their agendas. Information is much more credible when an entire organization backs it.

What sources did they use, if any? A credible publisher will provide multiple sources on a controversial subject. If someone is publishing fake news, they rely on people’s unwillingness to fact-check because of their convictions (also known as confirmation bias). Fake news will often give sources, but they will be vague or not traceable.

What emotions does it elicit? Fake news uses the power of emotion to get people to believe in it (again, confirmation bias). An accurate article will present the facts and multiple opinions. If you feel a strong emotion, like the strong desire for the news to be real, or anger towards the article’s stance, it may be fake or at least heavily biased.

Check both sides of the story. If you see a piece of news that aligns with your general views, see what you can find online that supports the opposite side of the issue. If you find several well-sourced articles on the other side, you might need to review the original article with a fresh perspective.

If you get into the habit of asking these questions with every online article, you will be better equipped to avoid fake news. To learn more about how the media works, click here.