By Coshandra Dillard
Facebook is still a thing. It’s where millions of people around the world gather to discuss the latest issues or share memories.
But I have an issue with this social media platform. There is too much unverified information coming through timelines, leading to misunderstandings.
If you let articles posted on Facebook tell it, the HIV virus has been injected into bananas and Adam Sandler received some Southern hospitality in East Texas. These are just a couple of examples of false stories that make its rounds everyday. It can be subtle, but most articles I see passed around are obviously fake or intentionally misleading.
We’re in information overload. Although, that’s not always a bad thing. We have the opportunity to comb through information to fill in gaps on topics not covered in our formal education, explore a subject we’d like to dig deeper into, or follow current events more closely. The problem is that too many people are taking advantage of our thirst for knowledge. Hence, the advent of fake news—fabricated articles meant to purposefully mislead readers. Facebook is a prime location for the biggest offenders.
Despite news coverage about this social media phenomenon in recent years, the habit of sharing fake news doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon. A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Human Behaviour found that fake news stories spread so fast on social media—by virtually everyone—because we’re too busy or too distracted to wade through the constant stream of information. For “likes,” we’re more likely to share a post that has gone viral or to be a part of the popularity, the study suggests.
Are we really that busy or so distracted that we fail to discern what seems plausible or legit? Or are we in such a rush to be first to report the hot news of the day that we don’t care if it’s accurate?
So how do you determine what is a real site with real news? The headline and name of the website is usually the first giveaway. If the headline sounds sensational it probably is. Sometimes, people aren’t reading past the headlines. This is a big mistake because even with credible news, the headline is designed to draw you in to read the piece.
Check around the site for signs of a hoax. Look at the “About Us” page or for a disclaimer stating that it’s fake or all for laughs, as many tend to feature this somewhere on the site. Also, misspellings, excessive capitalization, and a play on a reputable sites’ name or news stations’ name are other obvious signs.
For stories that appear to be breaking news or introduce questionable information, check for sources within the article. Who did the author interview and cite? When was the article written? A true news story cites its sources and/or shows links to where they received information. There should be other outlets reporting the same thing. If you don’t see it breaking across numerous platforms, chances are it’s not real.
There are a ton of news outlets, magazines and blogs that cater to a specific audience and/or have a specific agenda. While niche publications aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to also seek information from established and reputable outlets. Conservative- and liberal-leaning sites may not share the same news, or at least the same angles. It doesn’t make it fake news though. It just means they’re biased. For example, Fox News and Huffington Post are considered very biased, but considered legitimate news sources. In this case I’d suggest you get news from numerous sources and/or follow outlets who strive for objectivity. The most well-known include: The Washington Post, New York Times, Texas Tribune, Texas Monthly, Dallas Morning News, NPR; and major networks such as ABC News, NBC News, CBS News and PBS.
This doesn’t mean that reputable news outlets won’t ever make a mistake. After all, journalists are human. In the event an error does occur, the inaccuracy is removed and a correction is made as soon as possible.
So, errors or what may be perceived as bias is not synonymous with fake news, despite the rallying cries in today’s political discourse.
And then there is satire. The purpose of satirical articles or videos is not for a deep analysis into real news. Instead, it’s a humorous take on current events— usually picking fun at a controversial topic. For example, the Onion is a site with obvious clickbait headlines. It’s good for a laugh because they take swipes at political happenings or pop culture and are rooted in some truth. In other words, it’s around so that you can “laugh to keep from crying.”
So here’s my two cents: We’re treading in dangerous territory these days. We get a lot of information thrown at us daily, yet collectively, we’re not more informed. Take breaks from social media if it becomes overwhelming. Even for us news junkies, there is absolutely no way to read every piece of information that is published daily. And that’s OK. Remember, it’s better to fully read a couple of articles a day than to skim dozens of headlines only to risk sharing fake news.
TIPS FOR AVOIDING FAKE NEWS
Ask questions: Is this believable? Is this a legitimate news outlet? Is this story reported elsewhere?
READ. Don’t just stop at the headline and share the post. Click the link and check for tell-tale signs that it’s a hoax such as a disclaimer or an About Us page that explicitly says it’s fake, satire, or a joke.
Check the date. I fell for this one. Facebook is often several days behind other social media platforms and old news is circulated for no reason at all. Obituary articles about celebrities who died years ago has popped up on my Facebook timeline many times. Before you relive your favorite star’s death, check the date. It’s usually at the top of the article near the writer’s byline.
Fact check. There are sites such as snopes.com that dispel rumors, myths and fake news. For political news, check out Politifact. Slate launched ThisIsFake, which allows users to flag fake stories on Facebook with the hopes that it halts the spread.
Know how to spot satire. Satire isn’t exactly a bad thing. Satirists—if they do it right— aren’t looking to fool people. They’re simply using sarcasm and hyperbole to ridicule an idea, an event or a person. It’s usually a very smart, yet humorous, take on the news. Think: The Onion, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. To check for real, satire, biased, or straight up fake news, visit realorsatire.com or fakenewswatch.com.
A SAMPLE OF SITES TO AVOID