How to Identify “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”

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 untrue from the true.

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 agenda and are not worried about accuracy or balance.

The best way to approach online media is to ask yourself certain questions before sharing posts to make sure the report is accurate.

Who is the publisher? If the news is supported by a credible source, such as a news publication or research institution, it is probably factual. 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 personal agendas. Information is much more credible when it is backed by an entire organization.

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 are relying on people’s unwillingness to fact-check because of their own 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 true, 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 a number of 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.