One year into the Trump administration and it feels like a lifetime. You’d think we’d be immune to it all, but we’re not. We’re shell-shocked. Crises followed by unspeakable tragedies. The assault on our democratic institutions is constant and aggressive. We’d never heard of fake news until Donald moved his ill-prepared advisers, family and hangers-on into the White House. Donald’s constant assault on highly regarded newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, calling them “failing” is his way of undermining our freedom of speech, a basic right guaranteed by our constitution.
Instead, Donald is glued to the real fake news . . .
Donald gets his news from Fox, Breitbart and other negligible institutions which have legitimized these “alternative facts”. So yes, fake news is a big problem. But the people who believe fake news are the same ones who believe everything they see in print. “I read it on the Internet”—so it must be true, right? Really, really wrong. They read the tabloids, the sleeze sheets at the checkout counters, and believe the headlines.
What’s most disturbing is the we’ve raised a generation of people who have lost the ability to think, to question, to differentiate between legitimate reporting and that which is pure fabrication. People should have a fundamental sense of media literacy. A recent study released by Stanford University researchers, showed that many people don’t.
If you’ve completely lost hope, here are some ways to prove the legitimacy of a news story.
- Pay attention to the domain and URL. Established news organizations usually own their domains and they have a standard look with which you are probably familiar. Sites that end with .com.co should tip you off that they may not be legitimate. This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos. An example: abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not, despite its similar appearance.
- Read the “About Us” section. Most sites will have a lot of information about the news outlet, the company that runs it, its leadership, and the mission and ethics statement behind an organization. The language used here is straightforward. If it’s melodramatic and seems overblown, it’s a red flag. You should be able to find out more information about the organization’s leadership in places other than that site—it should be all over the web. Google the leadership and look at their credentials. If it’s questionable, so is the publication.
- Be wary of the lack of quotes. Most publications have multiple sources in each story who are professionals and have expertise in the fields they discuss. If it’s a serious or controversial issue, there are more likely to be quotes–lots of them, from industry experts. Look for professors or other academics who can speak to the research they’ve done. And if they are talking about research, look up those studies.
- Be equally wary of the source of quotes. Check the sourcing. Is it a reputable source with a title that you can verify through a quick Google search? Let’s say you’re looking at an article that says President Obama wants to take everyone’s guns away. And then there’s a quote. Obama is an official who has almost everything he says recorded and archived. There are transcripts for pretty much any address or speech he has given. Google those quotes. See what the speech was about, who he was addressing and when it happened. Even if he did an exclusive interview with a publication, that same quote will be referenced in other stories.
The internet means that content lives forever; we now have the ability to validate the news we’re receiving. It’s up to each of us to be a critical thinker. To support free and independent journalism. Our founding fathers understood its importance to a system of healthy checks and balances, the fundamentals of democracy.