We know that journalism is important for the life of modern society, but misinformation in the media, or fake news, is becoming a huge issue. Most Americans see it as a major problem affecting the country, with over 60 percent of the country saying that fake news damaged confidence in the government.
Here’s how to figure out if a given news story is accurate, and how to find trustworthy news.
Consider the Source of the Story
You first need to consider where you’re getting your news from. There are tons of fake news, misinformation, or clickbait outlets out there, that don’t care about spreading true or accurate information out.
If you haven’t heard of a given source before, there’s a good chance it’s a source of misinformation. And, make sure you’re not being tricked by a parody account, too. Sites like the Onion and Clickhole can be funny, but they occasionally get a little too close to the truth.
Avoid Using Social Media as Your Primary News Source
It may be easiest to get your news from social media, but unfortunately, it’s not always accurate. Sixty percent of adults in the United States who shared news stories on social media reported sharing misinformation. That’s why it’s important to vet everything you read before you share it.
And, misinformation isn’t the only danger when it comes to social media. Facebook, for example, also has major issues when it comes to privacy and censorship.
Don’t Base Truth on Politics
You may be tempted to lean towards a particular news outlet based on your political proclivities. But, that is a major way that misinformation circulates. Many of the right-wing news outlets in the United States have been dinged for the amount of fake news they put out there.
That doesn’t mean that more center or left-leaning outlets don’t have their own inherent biases. That’s why it’s always important to look at as many different sources as possible. You also should look at as many different stories that have solid sources as possible. These can include verifiable statistics, eyewitness accounts, and other sources of information.
Think It Through
One way that fake news gets spread is when people don’t use critical thinking and share stories automatically. If it seems like a given story doesn’t pass the sniff test, take a second, read the story again, and look into the claims it makes.
If anything a given story says can’t be verified, or just doesn’t make any sense, it’s probably not an accurate story.
Look into how information is interpreted, too. It’s not always on purpose, but sometimes data can be misinterpreted or is open to multiple different interpretations. That’s why it’s always important to go through the data and information offered yourself, so you can weigh all of the different sources and come up with your own, considered opinion.
Look for Common Signs
There are a few simple signs that something may be misinformation or fake news. There are some words or dog-whistle terms that are often included in fake news pieces.
Coincidentally, one common phrase often used in misinformation is “fake news,” usually in the context of accusing other reporting of being misinformation. Big, explosive claims that come out of nowhere can also signify fake news.
If a news story isn’t providing sources, that’s a major sign that there is an issue. Look for direct quotes, attributed to named sources. Some stories will allow for anonymous sources, but these are usually used in very sensitive cases where sources could be afraid of retaliation.
And, stories that use anonymous sources are held to a higher burden of proof than stories with named sources.
Differentiate Between Hard News and Opinion Pieces
You should also look for the differences between a news story and an opinion piece. An opinion piece is based on the opinion of the offer. They may use data or evidence that supports their point, or they may simply state their opinion, but in either case, an opinion piece should never be taken as fact.
Even if they do provide supporting evidence, they are likely to have ignored evidence that may disprove their point, which further biases the piece.
Opinion pieces aren’t fake news in and of themselves — but when misinterpreted or taken out of context, they can become fake news.
If you’re having trouble figuring out the differences between opinion pieces and hard news in a given outlet, it may be a sign that that outlet isn’t very transparent about which is which. A lack of transparency is another sign that a news source may not be very accurate.
Keep a List of Accurate News Sources
Once you’ve found sites that you believe are trustworthy, write them down. Refer to a list of trusted sites before you go scrolling through your Facebook page so that you’ll have more accurate information to compare articles that your friends may share with.
You should also look at as many different sources as possible. That way, you’ll be able to look for commonalities in different stories. If certain facts are being reported in many different sources of news, sources with different biases that come in different formats, it’s more likely that those facts and those stories are accurate.
Now You Know How to Find the True Story
With these tips, you should be well on your way to sorting out misinformation and finding out what the real story is in any given situation.
Do you have more questions about journalism and the media? Check out Journalism Online today.