12.06.18

The Real Deal About Fake News: Why It Exists and How to Eliminate it From Your Life

The term “fake news” helpfully defines itself, but its intent is not nearly as reader-friendly. This type of news is a whopper of a lie that credibly (sometimes) weaves a bit of truth in with the deception.

Fake news got its start in 19th-century yellow journalism—news stories that were based on facts, but were wildly sensationalized to grab more attention (and more money).

The ever-quotable Benjamin Franklin said, “Half the truth is often a great lie.” In that spirit, yellow journalism was also fake news, but in today’s world of entirely made-up news stories expertly masquerading as true news, it’s easy to look back somewhat nostalgically. At least those lies were generally built on a foundation of truth. Get a deeper look into the history of yellow journalism here.

Side note to anyone dedicated to preserving and protecting the truth: Before quoting good ol’ Ben or any other well-known person, make sure the quote is true. Fake quotes—or real quotes attributed to the wrong people—have infested the internet. Some may consider this a type of fake news, but in many cases, this is simply a mistake and lacks an essential fake news ingredient: the intention to deceive.

Fake news deceives in both its story and appearance. One of the most nefarious aspects of fake news is that it can be extremely hard to identify. A study conducted for Buzzfeed by market research firm Ipsos revealed that “75% of American adults who were familiar with a fake news headline viewed the story as accurate.”

To help keep you from going to the dark side of the news, we have a few expert tips we learned firsthand from Len Apcar, former New York Times editor and current media-literacy chair at LSU.

  1. Check the URL. Fake sites sometimes use names of real news agencies in their URLs, but add odd extensions like “.com.co” to them or slightly misspell the domain names.
  2. Think back to your academic days and evaluate the publisher’s credibility. Legitimate sites generally have an “About Us” page with background information and contact details readily available.
  3. Quality matters. If the story is riddled with typos, grammatical errors and yells the news at you in all caps, you are probably not on a trustworthy site.
  4. Real news comes from real sources. Make sure quotes and claims are backed up with credible sources. Fake news sites will sometimes link to “sources” within their own site.
  5. Be particularly wary of news that comes to you. News stories that pop up on your social media feed should always be evaluated for authenticity.
  6. Assess the overall tone of the story. Fake news tries to evoke strong (usually negative) emotions and pushes a singular point of view.
  7. Is the story being reported on other websites? Fake news tends to be about extreme situations or events, so if the story is true it should be readily available on well-known news sites.

Having to thoroughly vet all your news can be exasperating, but the alternative is to be misinformed about important topics that can drastically impact our society, both politically and culturally. In 2016, the Stanford History Education Group conducted a study on the “online reasoning” of young people. The results were so alarming, the group said it worries that “democracy is threatened” by how easily political fake news is believed and circulated. Keep democracy safe—investigate your news.

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