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How To Spot A Fake (News)

Yes, we wanted to leave all the fake news talk in the dust of 2016, but if the past 2 weeks have taught us anything, it’s that the news cycle is only going to get more mental in the coming year. While we like to see ourselves as mature adults who can tell inaccurate information from the accurate, spotting fake news can be trickier than expected, and go beyond the discerning between reliable and unreliable sources.

A recent study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education summed up “people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet” with one word: ‘bleak’. With that, we’re sharing some real ways you can avoid reading fake news in the Year of the Rooster, so you can throw some seriously accurate political shade!


SENSE ISN’T ALWAYS COMMON

Most of us dismiss the possibility of being sucked into believing fake news, but the likelihood is higher than you think, especially when you’re coming across an agenda-pushing piece that just so happens to align with your beliefs. Even the most seemingly objective among us are plagued with personal biases, and those who take the time to read news are more likely to have stronger feelings about sociopolitical issues.

Associate Professor of Communications at Ohio State Gerard Kosicki that many of us unknowingly “feed [our] prejudices and come up with talking points and arguments that [we] can use with [our] friends” instead of “trying to understand the world as it is and have an accurate view” (Source). The good news is that the more we’re aware of our biases, the more we’re able to make mental corrections to counter them.

At the same time, it is important to recognise that not all biases point to a piece being ‘fake’, as fake news implies the intentional fact of falsifying information for an ends. Many legitimate articles contain some biases, the distinction is to understand whether the author is trying to voice an opinion or materialising lies and misinformation.

DON’T TRUST APPEARANCES

Raise your hand if you’ve ever noted an article that you read, even though you never made it past the headline. We all do it, but the fact is many pieces on the internet are not what they seem. In fact, a study conducted by Columbia University and the French National Institute found that “59% of URLs mentioned on [Facebook from BBC, CNN, Fox News, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times]…were never clicked.”

Many creators of fake news intentionally buy domain names like msnbc.com.co, which seems legitimate at a glance, sucking people into the sensational content. Many of these websites go as far as to mimic the logo and overall look of trusted news authorities. Other fake news sides will exaggerate real news, republish old pieces, publish inaccurate quotes - all of which are subtle but can leave a distorted impression of the truth.

AT YOUR DISPOSAL

The growing awareness of fake news has led many to take action in creating helpful resources for identifying the culprits and helping the general public discern what is real and what isn’t. This may sound tedious, but it’s important to fact check anything before you accept it as so. As a general rule, if multiple major news sources (e.g. New York Times, CNN, NBC, etc.) have yet to publish it, chances are it has yet to be verified. Here are some useful one’s we’ve bookmarked:

CNN Fact Checker - A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center together with CNN’s Jake Tapper

Washington Post Fact Checker - The truth behind the rhetoric

Politifact - Independent fact checker that has won the Pulitzer

Snopes - The definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumours, and misinformation.

Fake News Alert - A Chrome plug-in that will notify you when you click into a fake news site.

NIP IT IN THE BUD

The negative effects of spreading fake news are obvious, but aside from changing the global discourse on decisively important issues, its effects have shown to have the potential to spark violence. In an already unstable time for global politics, where tensions are running high for Hong Kong and its future trajectory, it’s important to understand the crucial need to not only not consume or spread fake news, but actively work to prevent it.

Reporting it on Facebook, educating friends and family who have unknowingly consumed it, and reporting it on the appropriate channels (as listed above) are first steps to nipping these stories in the bud.

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