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Fake News! - How to Evaluate Information & Avoid Mis/Disinformation: Strategies to Avoid Fake News

Information Consumption Tips

In the best of all possible worlds, we wouldn't have to deal with fake news at all, and all the information we consumed would be legitimate.  But unfortunately, fake news is everywhere, and thus each of us needs to be the ultimate fact checker for the information we consume.

Keep these tips in mind when consuming information.  They can help you spot fake news stories.

  • READ THE STORY BEFORE YOU SHARE IT--Many people never read the fake news stories they share on social media; they simply see a sensationalistic headline and share it.  Being a responsible consumer of information means reading, and verifying the accuracy of, the story before sharing it to your social media network.
  • CHECK YOUR BIAS--Just because you want something to be true, doesn't mean it's true. Don't accept something on face value simply because it agrees with your preexisting views, and don't reject something just because it disagrees with them.
  • CHECK THE LANGUAGE USED BY THE AUTHOR--Fake news stories are designed to get a rise out of their readers, and they often accomplish this by using loaded language that may be inflammatory, manipulative, melodramatic, provocative, or absolute, favoring one side over the other.
  • IS THE STORY TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, OR TOO ABSURD TO BE BELIEVED?--If either one is the case, it's very possible the story is fake. However, don't automatically rule such a story out, because it could also be legitimate; be wary.
  • BE AWARE OF MANIPULATION--even if you don't have time to fact check every story you come across, simply recognizing the existence of fake news, and knowing that it is designed to manipulate its readers, can help you avoid its effects. A healthy level of skepticism is your best defense against fake news.

Strategies for Checking Online Information & Avoiding Fake News

When consuming stories and information online, take the following six steps to check for legitimacy.

  1. CURRENCY--How recent is the story?  Is it up to date, or is the story old, out-of-date, and no longer relevant?
  2. REPUTATION--What is the reputation of the site sharing the story? Does it have a known political bias that may influence the information or editorial content of the stories it posts?  Is it a legitimate news site, an opinion site/blog, or something you've never even heard of before?
  3. EXPERTISE--Who is the author of the information? Are they an expert on the subject with the education and experience to back up their claims, a journalist who is reporting facts to a general audience, or someone who no credentials who is merely stating an opinion or disseminating fake news with the intent of manipulating their readers?
  4. URL--Examine the site's URL.  Is it a .edu, .gov, .org, or something commercial, like .com or .net?  Many fake news sites try to trick you into thinking you're looking at a legitimate news site by having a URL that's almost the same (www.washingtonpoast.com) or by using a .co or .om extension (Washingtonpost.co).
  5. LANGUAGE--Consider the language used in the story. Is it sensationalistic and provocative? Propaganda and disinformation stories frequently use such information to inflame the emotions of their readers. Are there misspellings and grammatical errors? Many fake news stories, such as those generated in Russia and Eastern Europe, are written by non-English speakers.
  6. TRIANGULATION--Can you triangulate the information contained in the story by locating other sources reporting the same information? If you can find other stories, are they from legitimate news sources, or are they all citing the same original story?  If need be, engage in fact checking (see the RESOURCES tab for fact checking sites) to audit the information contained in the story.

Statistics

Don't automatically assume a story is accurate just because it includes statistics. Stats and data can easily be manipulated to prove a specific point. 

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