Fake news – What is the real deal?

Fake news is the Word of the year for 2017, according to Collins Dictionary.

Facebook knows fake news is a real issue so how do we know what is going on? Can we trust the news media? Is the newspaper, if you still read it, worth the paper it is printed on? Can you trust Facebook not to be feeding you fake news to your profile?

If you turn to social media, you soon discover hoaxes spread virally across every platform. So where do you go for reliable news, and how do you know what you are reading is real? Who is telling the truth out there?

Time for the Truthiness Test

Is it up to date? Has it been verified?

If it has just happened, there may not have been time to verify events as they occur. Check at intervals throughout the day to see if further reports clarify the situation and read other news sources to see how they are interpreting events. Try if possible to get first person reports from people on the ground rather than sources from half a world away where the events may be misinterpreted. Some news agencies will republish or rehash old news that may not be relevant to the current situation until they can get the full story. If it was posted or published a while ago does it still stand up and add to the overall picture.

Who wrote it and why?

Every story is written with a different readership in mind. Why was this story written and for whom? Do they want to entertain or to sell you something? Is it free of bias? What does the contact us information on the website tell you about the organisation that published it and what they stand for? Does the website tell you about their writers? Are they qualified to comment? Try googling the author to see what else they have published. Is the story written in a way that is trying to sway you to their point of view? How do your own beliefs affect the way you read the article and how you interpret it.

Have you checked it?

Take a look at some other news sources to check if they have a different interpretation of events. Does the URL tell you anything about the source of the information? Is it from a trusted organisation government source or educational institution? Do they have links to supporting sources or does it look like speculation? If they do have links, check them out to see where they got their information from. If they don't state their sources they may be being paid to spread this information. Is the story overstating the facts or using outrageous headlines to get you reading it? Is it a joke? Although sometimes truth is stranger than fiction it might be a satire or a joke, so take a look at the About us section of the website to be sure.

Try putting it through a fact checking website like Snopes or FactCheck.org

Try putting it through the CRAAP test and see how it measures up. Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose (see this PDF handout from California University, opens a new window).

Don't trust me, check out IFLA for their on How to Spot Fake News, opens a new window and a great printable infographic to remind you.

Finally, read critically and impartially. Does the news ring true?

More about fake news and critical thinking

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