Are you an easy target for fake news? You probably are if you don’t think twice after reading something crazy online and then immediately hitting “Like,” “Share” or “Retweet.” What you’re sending to a friend, relative or coworker might seem right up your alley, but if it’s fake news, what it is saying in unflattering ways is that you’re gullible and unsophisticated.
It’s no secret. There is so much fake news that it’s easy for the purveyors to take advantage of people’s ignorance and naivety. Although it’s embarrassing to be caught falling for fake news, there are more serious reasons to become educated in strategies to identify and avoid the stuff. It’s divisive, and as more Americans dial in and absorb the rotten junk, our nation becomes increasingly misguided and divided. Perhaps all Americans should enroll in media literacy classes.
We would support that idea. Good citizenship means being informed, but how can well-meaning Americans sort out what’s phony from real facts and information?
Some Italian high schools are teaching media literacy for precisely the same reason it’s needed in the United States. You can’t be an informed citizen unless you know how to identify what’s fake.
One of the most important tools for identifying fake news comes from inside the consumer. When you read, hear or see news and it elicits a strong emotional reaction — happiness, anger, pride, vindication — and that emotion pushes you to share a “fact” with others, you probably just encountered fake news. Purveyors of fake news twist information in such a way that you react to it emotionally, rather than intellectually. If you’re blood is boiling because you’re angry, or you are elated because what you’ve just seen proves Uncle Harry has it all wrong with his ultraconservative viewpoints, watch out.
Don’t race to the conclusion that what you’ve just read or watched is true. Fact-check before sending it to friends.
Researchers have found that students who use fact checkers actually save themselves time when researching for assignments. They save time because they’re keeping what’s true and tossing what isn’t. It spares them from having to make sense of competing sources of information.
Here is a four-step process to help sort fact from fiction:
1. See if someone else has already fact-checked the claim;
2. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information;
3. Read what others say about the source (publication, author, etc.); and,
4. If you get lost or hit dead ends or find yourself going down a rabbit hole, back up and start over.
Finally, if something just seems too crazy or outlandish to be true, trust your gut that you’ve stumbled upon fake news.