(Thank you to Ellen of Life Disconnected for giving me insight for this post!)
When I was 7, standing in line at the grocery store, I noticed a headline about aliens on the National Enquirer. I asked my mom what was going on, and she let me know that it was a source of “fake” news. Everybody knew it. No one took it seriously (at least no one I would get my news from). And it did little damage sitting in the checkout line next to the Bubblicious, which I’m sure caught my attention soon after noticing the headline.
Times have changed.
It’s rare for someone to get their news from a newspaper. We get it from Twitter, from Facebook, from people who saw it on Twitter or Facebook. And while “fake” news used to be something that was reserved for newsstands, it’s now a social media epidemic, and it’s fueling a lot of unnecessary hatred and division.
Spreading fake news isn’t an issue solely for Democrats, and it’s not an issue solely for Republicans. In fact, it’s not even an issue solely about politics, though the most recent wave of fake headlines have definitely been politically driven. It’s an issue for us, the people who consume the news. We are the people who give power to the stories we choose to share. We are the people giving credibility where credibility isn’t due.
It can be really tough to spot fake news. In fact, universities are now teaching classes on how to spot fake information and data. Facebook and Google have banned fake news sites from using their advertising platforms. Ironically (I write in my blog), blogs and personal websites have made it even more difficult to spot fake news. Did you know that absolutely anyone can register a .info or .org? It would take me about five minutes to register this blog as caffeineandcreativity.org to add some “credibility” to my domain. Websites ending in .gov, on the other hand, require a username and password through the U.S. government to start the registration process.
Unless news is coming from a .gov, you need to do some research.
That’s not to say that there are not legitimate news sources that end in .com or other general domains. This graphic has been spreading like wildfire on social media:
It originally got attention when it was reposted by Patent Attorney Vanessa Otero. It’s gotten a lot of praise and a lot of criticism.
This comment was made on the graphic:
“LOL this chart is a complete joke. None of mainstream is accurate they are all paid off shills with an agenda that report what they are told by their masters… not journalists they are fictionalists.” — Michele Ellen
InfoWars, listed as conservative sensational garbage on the graphic, made their own chart, putting sources like the Drudge Report with them on the side of “Freedom.”
The truth is, everyone is not going to agree on whether or not the mainstream and more complex sources are perfect. Journalists get stories wrong sometimes. Bias leaks in where it shouldn’t. But there is a huge difference between a well-researched piece and a piece that speculates on a rumor.
You may be wondering why a lifestyle blogger cares so much about journalistic integrity. I have a degree in journalism but chose to become a creative copywriter. Many of my classmates have gone on to be smart and inspiring journalists, and my background gives me a specific appreciation for a well-researched story. As part of a news writing class, I had to do a semester-long investigative reporting project. For three months, I focused on one subject and learned everything I could about it. To be honest, I hated doing it as a college student. But as a potential journalist, it was great practice and a great look at how thorough news stories should be.
But that’s not how modern news is written (in general). It’s no longer a marathon that aims to get out the most complete and unbiased story, it’s a race to break the headline, whether it’s true or not.
The truth is, there are still honest and hard-working journalists out there. They put their reputation and their livelihood on the line to make sure that the general public is educated and armed with facts. When we share fake news, we belittle their careers and tell the world that we are accepting of being lied to. We state that being the first to know is more important than knowing the truth.
The next time you go to share a story, I challenge you to look out for these red flags:
- Exclamation points or unnecessary capitalization in headlines
- Quotes from untraceable sources or sources listed without titles
- No quotes at all
- Many comments on the story calling it fake
- No author bio
- A mystery-filled about section that doesn’t touch on the ethics of the publication or staff information
- Double URLs, like .com.co
- Facts varying drastically from other sources you’ve checked (even if you REALLY want these facts to be true)
The newspaper I grew up reading, The Indiana Gazette, will not post “breaking news” until they’ve confirmed it with at least two sources/officials. Look for credible sources with attribution. (Oh, and yes, your hometown newspaper may just be one of the BEST sources of news available to you.)
Don’t forget that a little thing called satire exists, as well. Sites like “The Onion” regularly trend with their lighthearted takes on current events. Fake and satire are not the same thing, but sharing satire without knowing that it’s satire is bad form, as well.
We have a duty to educate ourselves, and to educate ourselves with the most researched and least biased information we can find. It’s up to us to show that honesty and integrity are still things to be admired.
For your reading pleasure, here are some lists of fake news sources and resources to help you spot fake news – from several different sources, just in case there are some you don’t trust!