Current Event (“Fake News”) Spam, What to Watch For?

According to Pew Research, eight out of ten of us turn to a digital device for the news.  Convenient? Definitely. Entertaining? Yes. But reliable and accurate? Not so much.  With busy lives and little time to do our own investigation, how do we determine truth from spin? How do we detect “fake news” and current event spam, news intentionally or unintentionally propagating false, inaccurate, or unbalanced information? 

“Just the facts, please.”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” If something seems too good or bad to be true, it’s generally not accurate. Go to the experts to fact check those tidbits of knowledge in a story that do not ring true. Today we have websites available to help us quickly verify a variety of topics, sites such as PolitiFact or the Washington Post Fact Checker who rates the level of knowledge veracity by awarding “Pinocchios.”

“Consider the source!”

Before the story hits your phone, computer, or tablet, the information passes through several hands. First, someone authored the story, (or in current event spam, a computer generated the article!). Is the author someone you trust? Does he or she have a track record for unbiased, accurate reporting?

An entity must then publish the article. Every media outlet, whether intentional or not, has a bias or slant in what they publish. Consult Media Bias/Fact Check or NewsGuard websites to learn the political slant of the publisher. Social media users then propagate the story. Watch which individuals are promoting the piece; are these social media users credible? What’s their bias?

Sometimes fake news arrives in our inboxes. Using an attractive title or introduction, this spam may send us to a URL for the ‘rest of the story.’ We should never click on any addresses we cannot verify! Take a close look at the URL; it may look legitimate until you see two letters of a reliable source have been reversed to lead you to a source of fake news. 

“Variety is the spice of life!”

Most of us do not have the time to research the validity of everything we read. Like the wise investor who hedges his risk with a broad-based portfolio, wise news watchers read articles from a variety of sources on both sides of a topic. Tunnel vision leaves you vulnerable to a very small view. To have a complete understanding of the landscape, you need a 360° view, varying the media outlets you frequent. 

Often common sense becomes our best ally in the war on fake news. One plus one will always result in two. If “facts” don’t seem to add up correctly, they likely represent a very biased perspective. Learn to check your facts, vary your sources, and trust your instincts to avoid current event spam.