Exclusive Series: Part III-Stopping Fake News Begins With Us

This is the third article in our series on fake news. See our previous articles here and here for more information.


by Felicia Cravens

Stopping Fakery (Fake News)

One of the reasons fakery spreads so quickly is that we no longer look too carefully at the information that we scroll past in our feeds. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms are designed to encourage users to share images and stories instantly, based on the text or pictures or headlines, rather than consider first whether those things are true. And we consume so much more information online than we ever have before, making it harder for our brains to distinguish quality information from social media junk food. While these platforms are attempting to cut down on the amount of fakery on their sites, ultimately fakery spreads because people spread it without checking first. We have to look to users like ourselves to reduce the effect and scope that fakery has online.


Verify Before You Share

One way to combat these bad habits is to develop habits that slow you down before you hit that share button. You might open the post in a new tab or window, and let it sit there for a few minutes while you scroll further or go grab something to drink. Another tactic might be to institute a policy of not sharing any article based only on the headline and committing to fully reading and evaluating the article before sharing. For instance, celebrity death hoaxes are a common form of fakery we’re seeing a lot of lately. It takes just a minute to do a search to find out if Eddie Murphy or Mr. T are still alive, so that would be a good policy to start using – doing a quick search before passing along something that’s so easy to verify. Anything that gets you in the habit of saying ‘I need to know more before I share this’ is going to help you develop better information habits online.


Now, you might think you don’t share anything fake online, and that this doesn’t apply to you. But most of us have spread something that was untrue or a link that only told part of the story, simply because of how it touched our emotions. But even if you don’t tend to share fakery, you still should check out the tips to avoid it. You need to become someone who helps others in your life avoid it, so learn and use these tips to help them know what to look for.


Tips to Identify Fake News

I want you to try this exercise for the coming week. Every time you see an article online that you want to share, do this. First, open it in a new tab and let it sit there for five minutes, without looking at it. Second, once the five minutes are up, do a critical analysis of the article with the 20 Tips below, and see how many warning signs the article contains. Third, search for at least two additional sources reporting the same information. Just doing those three things will start to train you to be a better-informed consumer, and also help you teach others how to do the same. Give it a try and then let us know what articles you looked at and what you found out!


Unfakery Top 20 News Checks


1 – No Byline – Look for an author and a date for the article. Legitimate journalists put their name on their work and tell you when they published it. You can look up the author’s other work to compare and see where the article fits into the timeline of events.


2 – No Links or Citations – Look for links to sources an details that back up the article. A good article will usually have links to supporting material that you can check out for yourself.


3 – Only Links to the Same Site – Sometimes an author wants to link to something else he’s written on the same site, or to something a colleague has authored. But if every link in a piece links to another article on the same site, chances are it’s just harvesting your clicks.


4 – The ‘Proof’ Is Just Tweets – In some articles with tweets, the tweets ARE the story, as Twitchy demonstrates. But if an article’s only evidence for a theory or event is a series of tweets, you can be pretty sure it’s not real news. Speculation, maybe, but not news.


5 – Word for Word Copy Elsewhere – If you search on the headline or some text in the article and find multiple sites with exactly the same text where it’s not being quoted, most likely either someone is plagiarizing, or the site is part of a fake news click bait network.


6 – Links Unrelated Content – If you see a link in an article that is supposed to go to a page with detail about the story, but instead links to a page that has nothing to do with the story, it’s almost certainly fake.


7 – Links Only to Home Pages – Let’s say an article references an interview at CNN. But the link only takes you to the CNN home page. It’s worth doing a CNN search, but that alone is a good indication that there is no such content at CNN.


8 – Unrelated Images – Often fake news sites lift images from unrelated events and pass them off as proof of the events described in the article. Search on the image of a questionable story and you might find it’s borrowed from somewhere else.


9 – Not Linking to Sources – Fake news sites often reference major news organizations in their stories to add the impression of legitimacy. If there isn’t a link to the source cited, then it’s probably not a real citation.


10 – Opinion Words – Fake news is infamous for using words that push buttons and evoke emotion. If a story uses words like ‘fears’, ‘desperate’, ‘busted’, ‘reveals’, ‘bombshell’, or similar words, there’s a good chance it’s fake.


11 – No Author Contact Info – Most legitimate journalists have Twitter accounts or email accounts listed so people can reach them with tips or questions. A lack of contact info isn’t a deal-breaker, but it should raise concerns about the site.


12 – Pseudonyms or Nicknames – Legitimate journalists usually don’t use pen names unless they have a good reason to remain anonymous. Be skeptical of any piece authored by someone who doesn’t use his real name in journalism.


13 – Forecasting Words – Many fake news articles report that things are just about to happen. That’s not news, that’s prediction. Look for words and phrases like ‘imminent’, ‘about to’, ‘headed to’ and others to tip you off to potential fake news and wishcasting.


14 – Questions in the Headline – Headlines are supposed to tell you the story, not ask you to become part of it. Questions like ‘Do You Agree?’ in a headline are there for one reason – to get you to click and share so the site can make money.


15 – Too Good to Be True – Does the story promise something highly improbable? Most likely it’s fiction, a misrepresentation of the facts, or inserting a lot of opinions where facts should be. All the more reason to check the story thoroughly before sharing.


16 – A Lack of Detail – Does the author provide sufficient details about the events being covered? Can you find in the text who is involved, what happened, and where the events occurred? Do the details – names, places, etc. – not survive even the most basic of searches? Leaving out crucial details means there’s a good chance it’s fake.


17 – Bait and Switch – Does the headline make a claim that isn’t backed up in the article? Does it claim something has happened, but in reality, it’s only a possibility? You’re very likely being baited into clicking on some fake news.


18 – Only Narrated Video ‘Proof’ – A news article should corroborate facts the reporter uncovers with multiple sources that have been vetted as much as possible. A YouTube video that consists of narration over images – of a person or machine reading an article – is not proof of anything.


19 – Slightly ‘Off’ Website Names – Clever fakers use site names that look similar to those from legacy news organizations. Names like ABCNews.com.co or CNN-trending.com have often been used by fakers. Check the website address carefully to make sure it isn’t a sneaky substitute.


20 – The Site Tells You It’s Fake – Many ‘satire’ sites have disclaimers hidden somewhere hat admit all of their stories should be assumed to be fake. If a site is clearly telling you it’s fake news, you should believe them, at least about that.


Felicia started the Unfakery Facebook page in 2017 to help conservatives learn how to avoid fakery that was targeted at them. As a twenty-year veteran of Texas Republican politics and conservative activism, she feels her credentials might help reach people on the right where other sources might be dismissed. Felicia founded the Houston Tea Party Society in 2009 and spent much of her time developing training resources, helping people new to politics become involved and effective. Her frequent media appearances gave her a crash course in messaging and media relations as well. A political blogger for over ten years on various platforms, she has focused chiefly on conservative messaging and media accountability. Felicia is also a seventh-generation Texan and mentions it to the point of being obnoxious. Follow Felicia on Twitter @somethingsfishie
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Patricia is the founder and editor of Little Bytes News, a former elementary teacher, radio talk show host, political activist and political blogger. In 2012, Patricia was nominated one of “Circle of Moms” top 25 political bloggers.

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