Here’s a quick and easy example of how to discern fact from fiction in an article you see shared online. This is a link I happened to come across on Facebook that made me curious.  The headline is “BREAKING: Rosa Parks’ Daughter Praises Trump’s Response to Charlottesville.” I won’t give it a link because the story doesn’t deserve clicks, but you could probably find it by searching. I thought it was a provocative headline, but it didn’t seem very likely, so I checked it out.

First clue is the website is a random blog I’d never heard of (I know, funny criticism from a random blogger like myself but I don’t claim to have “BREAKING” news here). So I read further and looked for a source. There was actually a link to a source (if there’s not, I call bullshit pretty quickly). So I clicked the source and the source was another website I’d never heard of, so I checked for an “about” page. The “about” page said that the site “makes no guarantee that anything you find here will be based at all in reality. All posts should be considered satirical and all images photoshopped to look like something they’re not. It’s not you, it’s me.”  So that was an easy check that the original article I clicked on was totally fake. Also, my judgment is that the site is very bad at satire and writing–so I’m not giving them clicks, either. Had there been no “about” page, the ridiculousness of other articles on the site would have been another easy clue.

In addition to my very quick sleuthing (it really took very little time so don’t worry that it takes too long to check a source before sharing), I decided to also check on the person the story was about, because I didn’t remember hearing about children of Rosa Parks before.  A quick search revealed that Rosa Parks never had children, so there couldn’t possibly be a daughter of hers making breaking news. Another easy way to debunk a story.

So my tips from this example:

  1. Check the source. Sometimes this will lead you on a longer chase where one site links to a source, which leads to another source, and then another, until you find what may be the original.
  2. If you don’t find a source, that’s a red flag right there, unless it’s an original article by a real reporter who talked to real people.
  3. Check if the people or locations or whatever mentioned in the article actually exist. If they’re quoting someone notable, that person should be easy to find in other news articles. Some false articles will quote a professor at a particular university. If that person is not on staff at that university, there’s an obvious red flag.
  4. This is not really related to this particular “news” item, but another good tip is to check the date on the original source. Sometimes sites will link to really old news with a breaking news sort of headline like it’s something new.

Edited to add: Politifact has also debunked this article, but not at the time I first looked into it, so I checked on my own. Sometimes a quick check will show a site like Politifact has already debunked or confirmed a story, but if it’s a new thing they haven’t gotten to yet, it’s helpful to know how to do some checking yourself.

 

 

Dropped his jaw
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Here is a list of some sites we shouldn’t be sharing links to–these all happens to be from the left. Eventually we’ll list some from the right as well. I see shares from these ALL THE TIME, and I admittedly have occasionally liked a meme or story from these myself, though lately I’ve tried to avoid it and especially avoided passing them on.

These sites are not good sources for news. They are looking to get a ton of shares by playing to your bias or stoking your outrage with sensationalist headlines. Usually they don’t even contain original content but just repeat what other actual news sources are saying but dialed up to 11 on the outrage scale.

I would add to the list in the link above a website called Washington Journal, which I’ve seen shared a lot. I don’t consider it a quality news source. It’s sensationalized and designed to garner outrage on the left. I can’t precisely speak to how factual it is but I wouldn’t trust it until verified from a more reliable source. I will probably call it out when I see it. (Not to be confused with the C-SPAN show, Washington Journal, which is a whole different thing.)

A good place to double check if your source is valid is Media Bias/Fact Check.

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Russia
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Everyone knows by now that Russia was very successful in getting Americans to suck up fake stories and in just steering Americans toward the trending topics they wanted us to pay attention to in the last presidential election. They used their own propaganda sites as well as armies of bots and trolls on social media. Well, here’s a site dedicated to tracking their propaganda work in real time.

To read more about it, click here for an article on Business Insider. 

Counterfeit Authentic Magnified
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Here are some ideas for checking photos and videos you see online.

A handy tool for photos is https://www.tineye.com where you can do a quick reverse image search. For an example, during the last presidential election, I saw a photo on my Facebook feed of Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Bin Laden. It’s not real. It looked photoshopped and it took very little time to find out it’s from a photoshop contest from a website. It’s o.k. to have differing viewpoints. It’s not o.k. to swallow misinformation without at least a quick check.

Check for altered video (you also can’t believe every video you see).

Submit photos for forensic analysis.

Another easy way to fact check a video is if you see a short excerpt or clip from a video that enrages you, maybe check for a longer version before you share your outrage. This comes from both sides of the political spectrum (and from outside politics). Here’s an example involving Trump supposedly ignoring a disabled child.

Look, if you think you don’t have time to double check before you share a photo or meme, maybe you don’t have time to share at all.

myth and reality word cloud
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Here are some helpful links to check before you share a link on social media. If more people were careful before sharing, there would be fewer false stories spreading and fewer crappy so-called news sites gaining clicks. It will avoid you getting an annoying comment by someone like me who likes to fact check.

Before you share, here are ways to spot a BS news story, from Cracked.com.

Check where bias falls (if it’s not obvious) and whether a site is known for being factual. Personally I am not as bothered by a bit of bias as I am by bad and nonfactual reporting.

Check those facts with sites like Politifact.