Keeping it real in the era of fake news

The truth is out there, it’s just getting harder to find.

lincoln-fake-quoteThe proliferation of fake news is such some people don’t know what to believe.

Today I read Kanye West was meeting with our next president at Trump Tower. As much as I hoped otherwise, this news turned out to be true. Mr. Kardashian was not crowned Music Yeezus so I’m not sure what they discussed. But, if I was The Donald I wouldn’t let that guy anywhere near a microphone during the inauguration.

For years I have railed against friends that intentionally post fake news on social media. When confronted with facts, people I once considered intelligent make excuses like “I’m just trying to start a debate” or “I think this is more true than we realize.”

You can’t win an argument with such people. The promise of the Internet was that we’d all have access to the same facts. Instead, it has created so much misinformation everyone can find something false they truly believe.

A pet peeve of mine is fake quotes by the Founding Fathers, religious leaders, philosophers and scientists. They are very popular. At some point in Internet history, words became more believable if a nice font was laid over the picture of someone dead and famous. My favorite is Abraham Lincoln saying “The problem with quotes on the Internet is they are often not true.”

Abe is more honest dead than any politician living today.

Some say we now live in the “post-truth” era. Traditional media outlets have even issued primers on “how to tell if news is fake.”

It’s difficult to tell news fact from fiction because online headlines often exaggerate what is reported in the article and many people don’t bother to read. The headline is shared millions of times and soon the exaggeration is all anyone remembers.

Here’s how you can spot fake news:

  • Are you reading a satirical website like The Onion? If the news makes you laugh it may be fake unless I wrote it.
  • Is the language used in the article clearly slanted? If the article spells a major political party “Demoncrat” it may be time to hit the back button instead of the share button.
  • Is the media outlet a well-known source of traditional news? Newspapers, which look like websites on big sheets of paper, are generally more trustworthy than your retired cousin who just figured out WordPress.
  • Does the article ask you to draw a conclusion? The phrase “any fool can see” is usually a dead giveaway.
  • Does the article list an author that actually exists? Be cautious if the reporter doesn’t have at least a dozen published articles and social media accounts.
  • Are real people quoted? If the only quote comes from a guy who asks to not be identified it’s possible someone made it up on deadline.
  • Check if the story is mentioned by PolitiFact, Snopes, FactCheck or any of the other debunking websites.
  • See if more credible news sources are reporting something similar.
  • Use a web browser extension that filters out fake news.

If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But the truth — if you can handle it — might be worth it.


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