How to Avoid the Fake News Trap

By Lola Augustine Brown

Photo: iStock/Grinvalds.

uch has been reported lately about news stories from less-than-reliable news sources flooding the Internet—many on Facebook—causing people to believe things that simply aren’t true. It’s even been suggested that fake news stories on Facebook may have swayed voters in the US election, helping Donald Trump win. Whether or not that’s true, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced plans to get fake news stories off of his social media platform. 

The reason these fake news stories are so persuasive—and so many people fall for them and share them, spreading the lies and rumours—is that they tend to look legitimate. The news sites cited will have names that sound like other, established sites and will be laid out like stories you’d see on established online news sites. They also tend to elaborate on existing rumours or to build on things we already know, creating an air of authenticity. However, there are signs you can look for that will help you determine whether a news source is reliable. 

First, if you’ve never heard of the website behind a news story, put your skeptic’s hat on and consider the following: Does the story seem heavily biased towards one political leaning? Is the story inflammatory, providing little in the way of hard facts? Is it shocking but being reported only on this site? Reputable news outlets, even those leaning left or right, are unlikely to run a highly speculative story about Hilary Clinton being linked to the murder of an FBI agent (a high profile fake news story that went viral). 

Look at the web address of the news site. Most reputable sites are going to have a .com or .ca domain (or if you’re looking at a UK news organization, for Australia, etc). If it ends in something like .su or .co, that could be a strong sign the site is fake. Such extensions are among the criteria that Zuckerberg will use when determining which sites to ban from Facebook.

The most important thing to do before sharing any news story with friends or family online is to read the whole article to allow you to judge its quality. Too many people are in the habit of reading a headline only and then getting fired up and then sharing it with others. These articles are designed to get you emotional. They are click-bait, pure and simple, designed to drive traffic to their websites so that they can increase ad revenue.

Reading the whole story might stop you from embarrassing yourself by sharing something from a spoof news site such as The Onion or The Beaverton and commenting in a way that shows others you believed the story to be true. Taking a few extra moments to process your news could help you appear to be a much smarter person.  

Photo: iStock/Temizyurek.
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