Nothing to fear in fake news: Dissecting the facts takes time, but it’s a small price for being informed

Scrolling down your social media news feed to check what your friends are up to, you notice news articles with bold headlines that say something almost unbelievable.

“Man sues wife for ‘ugly children.’”

“Trump plans to deport American Indians to India.”

“Betty White Dyes Peacefully in Her Los Angeles Home.”

People are certainly talking about these topics, but are these articles really legit? Or are they fabrications?

Illustration by Tony Vue

They are fake news, which isn’t hard to find online. Personally, I don’t often stumble into fake news on my social media feeds. However, if I do run into it, I know what to do. That’s because I was taught in many of my classes how to fact-check and how to look for good sources. But not everyone has this training, and I worry about how my peers handle the misinformation they see in the media.

First, let’s define “fake news” as information presented as news but designed to deceive and not based in fact. It’s there to give false information, and it often spreads by social media. The more fake news spreads, the more people may be swayed.

Fake news is accessible to large audiences, and young people are particularly susceptible to it. Nowadays, teens don’t often follow the news closely day to day. That makes it harder to know what’s true and what’s fake. If teens do happen to read fake news, they might assume it to be fact. That can impact their opinions about what’s going on politically and in their community.

It turns out it’s relatively easy to find out if the article has merit. I want to share this process with people my age to help them form more fact-based opinions.

1. CHECK THE HEADLINE. One of the first things we see on a news article is the headline. When we read it, we can get a grasp of what the article is about. Before jumping to conclusions, read the header over. Does it make sense? Does it have that “that-can’t-betrue” feeling? Does it make you want to click on it anyway?

Let’s look again at this Betty White headline: “Betty White Dyes Peacefully in Her Los Angeles Home.” Many of you caught the satirical spelling of the word “dyes.” But many of you didn’t. And you’re the ones who can’t wait to share this article on your social media pages. Not only is this story satire (and misleading), it also is unkind to White, who may have woken up the next day to read that she’s dead.

2. CHECK THE WEBSITE AND THE WEBSITE URL. The website can help you find out if the article is fake or not. Is the news organization reliable? How about the website interface?

For example, ABCNews.com is a trusted and reliable news organization, but there used to be a counterfeit website, ABCNews.com.co, that posted fake news disguised as real. In the fake website, the so-called ABC News logo was more oval than circular, with more spacing among the letters, while the actual ABC logo is a tight circle, with letters pressed against the edge.

The contact information really gave it away: It listed the Topeka, Kan., address and phone number of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for a homophobic agenda and propaganda. This raises a red flag for the website being suspicious and lacking credibility, and it’s a sign that you should just close the website and clear your history.

3. TAKE A HARDER LOOK AT THE SOURCES. Sources will usually have something to do with how the article is shaped. Do the sources in the article seem to be reliable and honest?

An article that had circulated the Internet since 2004 claims that a Chinese man sued his wife for having ugly children, according to a news organization in Heilongjiang, China. Other news organizations published the story.

Then in 2012, the article started to gain traffic when someone attached a photo of a good-looking couple and three children who are less attractive than their parents, according to Snopes.com, a website that debunks fake news and rumors. The photo was originally an advertisement on plastic surgery and had nothing to do with the article. And in fact, one of the models filed a lawsuit over the misappropriation of her image in the photo, according to Snopes. com. Sometimes, even checking the photo caption can save you time because it will discredit a story immediately.

4. USE COMMON SENSE. Headlines and sources aside, there’s this thing inside us that reads something and immediately tells us “Noooooo way.” This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s using all of the steps above, as well as life experience and interests, to factor into whether we will click on an article and readily accept is as fact.

Use your noggin. It’s there for a reason.

If you’re too skeptical to rely on your own common sense, there are websites that can validate and debunk these kinds of articles, such as Snopes.com, which helped expose the bogus story about the man suing his wife, and Factcheck.org.

I hope that these steps teach people my age about the spread of fake news and how it can misinform. If we learn to identify the truth, we’ll be more informed and better prepared to take on society’s challenges.

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