How to identify and protect yourself from fake news

In today’s post-truth era, the concept of “fake news” has taken center stage.  Agenda disagrees with the facts?  It’s fake news.  Don’t like what the other networks are saying about you?  Also fake news.  Content creators have become increasingly successful at fooling people into believing half-truths and complete lies.  Worse yet, social media makes is incredibly easy and quick to share misinformation to large audiences.

Let’s look at the different types of fake news, their common traits, and then how to identify each so you protect yourself.

Types of fake news

10 types of fake news
10 types of fake news. Source: eavi (Media Literacy for Citizenship)

Propaganda

  • Adopted by governments, corporations and non-profits to manage attitudes, values, and knowledge
  • Appeals to emotions
  • Can be beneficial or harmful
Propaganda mural in North Korea
Propaganda mural in North Korea. Source: Andrew Todaro

Partisan

  • Ideological and includes interpretations of facts but may claim to be impartial
  • Privileges facts that conform to the narrative whilst forgoing others
  • Emotional and passionate language
Where do you read your news? Source: Vanessa Otero

Conspiracy Theory

  • Tries to explain simply complex realities as response to fear or uncertainty
  • Not falsifiable and evidence that refutes the conspiracy is regarded as further proof of the conspiracy
  • Rejects experts and authority
Conspiracy theories abound on Alex Jones’ Infowars.

Pseudoscience

  • Purveyors of greenwashing, miracle cures, anti-vaccination, and climate change denial
  • Misrepresents real scientific studies with exaggerated or false claims
  • Includes scientific-sounding words to sound believable
  • Often contradicts experts
A typical pseudoscientific product: magnets don’t work, copper doesn’t work, and Jesus doesn’t work.

Clickbait

  • Eye-catching, sensational headlines designed to distract
  • Often misleading and content may not reflect headline
  • Drives ad revenue

Examples of clickbait headlines

Sponsored Content

  • Advertising made to look like editorial
  • Potential conflict of interest for genuine news organizations
  • Consumers might not identify content as advertising if it is not clearly labelled

Satire and Hoax

  • Social commentary or humor (for example, The Onion)
  • Varies widely in quality and intended meaning may not be apparent
  • Can embarrass people who confuse the content as true

Error

  • Established news organizations sometimes make mistakes
  • Mistakes can hurt the brand, offend, or result in litigation
  • Reputable organizations acknowledge mistakes and publish apologies

Misinformation

  • Includes a mix of factual, false, or partly-false content
  • Intention can be to inform but author may not be aware the content is false
  • False attributions, doctored content, and misleading headlines

Bogus

  • Entirely fabricated content spread intentionally to disinform
  • Guerrilla marketing tactics; bots, comments, and counterfeit branding
  • Motivated by ad revenue, political influence, or both
Pizzagate was completely made up.

How do you protect yourself from fake news?

  1. Does the headline sound unrealistic?  Don’t believe everything you read.
  2. Check the URL.  Does it have any odd suffixes or substitutions designed to mislead viewers?
  3. Check the author’s credentials.  Skip anonymous news reports.
  4. Is it misleading?  Make sure the headline and/or picture matches the content.
  5. Consult and compare competing sources.  For example, what is Fox News saying VS CNN?
  6. Fact check stories with sites like Snopes, Politico, and Politifact.  Be aware of false attribution (attributing images, quotes, or video to the wrong source), doctored content (such as statistics, graphs, photos, and videos that have been modified, doctored, or taken out of context), and counterfeit content (ie: fake Twitter accounts posing to be legitimate sources).
  7. Dig deeper.  Follow up on cited sources and quotes.  Is the cited source reputable?
  8. Beware of online “filter bubbles” that show you only items that are similar to items you have liked.  This is especially important on social media sites like Facebook, which shows you content similar to the kinds you’ve previously engaged with.
  9. Be open-minded.  Ask questions.  Lots of questions.