Did Hillary Clinton and her aides really operate an underground child-sex ring?
Although modern teenagers have a reputation for being tech-savvy, studies show that we are becoming extremely susceptible to false advertisements and news stories. The best way to combat this fake news phenomenon is by learning how to distinguish credible news from sponsored content, satire, and just plain hogwash.
A Stanford University study analyzed over 7,000 American students from middle school to college age to test what they call “civic online reasoning,” which is the ability to judge the credibility of information on the Internet.
One specific task asked high schoolers to respond to an Imgur post titled “Fukushima Nuclear Flowers.”
Someone with an an unusual username posted an image of abnormal daisies and claimed they were a result of “nuclear birth defects.” Only about 20 percent of the tested teens were able to identify the traits of the untrustworthy.
Been fooled by click-bait before? Is your main source of news through social media? Here’s our compilation of helpful tips from organizations devoted to fact-checking (Snopes.com, Factcheck.org) to determine credibility of online posts, articles, and news websites you come across every day:
Always check the source
Some fake or satirical news sites look legitimate by imitating other well-known news sites. Look at URLs to double-check the validity of the website if it appears similar. One website, abcnews.com.co, uses a similar logo and URL as ABC News, but taking a couple seconds to scroll to the bottom of their home page reveals ulterior motives.
If you aren’t sure about the validity of a story, look at other articles the site has published. If they’re full of shocking, “too good to be true” stories and headlines, be suspicious. Look beyond the headlines and Google sources the author used (if any) or organizations mentioned. Articles with these claims may have been based on true stories, but stretch the truth into something the scenario was not. Or, the actual content is completely unrelated to the headline.
Any article published without a date or author is unreliable, and all sources used during the research/investigative process should be properly attributed.
“One of the most important ways journalists and news organizations earn the trust of the public trust is by being transparent about who we are and the work we do,” writes Craig Silverman. Silverman, known as the Fake News Expert, was recently hired by Buzzfeed as media editor.
Journalists “attribute information to the source to show provenance,” Silverman continues, “We have bylines and credits to provide a sense of ownership and accountability.”
If you’re really confused about the credibility of a website, try searching for a disclaimer. This might be near the header, or lurk near the copyright or “About” section of the site. Trusted websites don’t need disclaimers.
Native advertising vs. sponsored content
Both sponsored content and native advertising are paid forms of content, and they are usually labeled as such.
Have you ever noticed native advertising? If the advertisers have done a good job, you won’t notice them. Generally speaking, native advertisements are ads that don’t look like ads.
“Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed,” according to Sharethrough, a company that publishes advertising software.
Native advertising is promotional in nature (hence the name “advertising”) and its goal is to convince rather than inform an audience. It may still look like an article, but there will be a distinct call-to-action or it will contain brand-biased content that contains the company’s name.
On the other hand, sponsored content is not brand-biased and its goal is to inform the audience. It usually serves useful or entertaining information as a way of favorably influencing the perception of the sponsor brand, according to the American Press Institute.
Did Vice President Joe Biden really wash a Trans Am shirtless on the White House driveway? The satirical Onion site often gets mistaken for real news, which can whip easily fooled readers into a frenzy.
Although some of the real news may seem more fictional than realistic, some stories are meant to be funny or mocking.
Satire is defined as “The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other [current] issues,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. The important thing to keep in mind with satirical content is that it’s intent is not (usually) to trick people into believing its stories as legitimate. Rather, it aims to highlight foolishness and spark change.
Satire’s “innate ability to cut right to the heart of the issue, and to cut the mighty down to size, make it an invaluable rhetorical tool, writes Ethan McCarthy on the importance of satire. “At its best, satire is fearless in the face of power, and… it has a unique way of rallying people to a cause. But the best satire… is not merely destructive, but constructive”.
Especially now that programs such as Photoshop, Superimpose, PicMonkey have gained popularity, pictorial “evidence” should be viewed with caution. It’s extremely difficult to tell whether photos have been altered and where they originated from. Some good questions to ask yourself the next time you see an unbelievable picture: Who took this photo? When? Where?
Another possibility is that the image was stolen from somebody else. You may find out that a compelling image was taken years ago, or that it was in a completely different context. One way to see if a photo has been used elsewhere is by using Reverse Image Searches.
As in the case of the “Nuclear Flowers,” some photos are presented as proof of a claim, but there is no way to tell who and where it originated.
If you’re only ingesting media that agrees with your views, it’s time to look at the other side. Being open to hearing opposing views causes you to question why you believe what you believe. The result is either reinforcing or modifying your beliefs. What’s the worst that could happen?
Stepping back to see the bigger picture of an issue or event can increase your comprehension of said issue, and helps you form a balanced, informed opinion.
When in doubt…
Check to see if major, reputable news sources have reported on the same event. If Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The New York Times haven’t picked up the story, there’s probably something fishy going on.
Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors
Updated guide to the internet’s click-baiting, news-faking, social media exploiting dark side.
- National Report
- World News Daily Report
- Empire News
- News Examiner
- The Stately Harold
- The Reporterz
- Empire Herald
- Satira Tribune
- Associated Media Coverage
- Check publication dates (what looks like current stories may be old, recycled news. “Often you’ll find that whatever it is you’re supposed to be outraged about took place several years ago and/or has long since been resolved.”
- When multiple popular web sites “simultaneously picking up a viral lead but all sourcing it from the (very) unvetted original” … “If a story that simultaneously appears on many different popular news sites sounds too good to be true, check to see if all of those sites are referencing the same source. Single-source reports based on premises that are hard to swallow often turn out to be media hoaxes, pranks, or simply shoddy reporting”
- sites are well-known hoax purveyors, but their articles have nonetheless achieved significant traction on social media, especially during times of national tension over prominent social issues.
- Fukushima Nuclear Flowers post imgur.com/gallery/08hgZDK
- Polls http://www.ncpp.org/?q=node/4
One of the most important ways journalists and news organizations earn the trust of the public trust is by being transparent about who we are and the work we do.
“Every newsroom, and basically also every single story must show why they deserve more trust than dozens or even hundreds of others on the same topic.”
We attribute information to the source to show provenance. We have bylines and credits to provide a sense of ownership and accountability. We offer opportunities for people to respond to what they read, hear and see. We invite the public to report errors and request corrections, and we publicly admit our errors.
What good journalists should do from Craig Silverman’s article “The best ways for publishers to build credibility through transparency” on Sept 24, 2014.
For this Strategy Study we talked with experts and newsroom leaders, and reviewed academic literature and research findings, to examine how practices related to transparency and credibility are evolving in five key areas:
- Show the reporting and sources that support your work
- Collaborate with the audience
- Curate and attribute information responsibly
- Offer disclosures and statements of values
- Correct website and social media errors effectively