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How to Spot Fake News - By alisa-scerrato - January 18, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

How to Spot Fake News

(Courtesy Photo)

After the election, many of us suddenly faced with the harsh reality that fake news may have played a role in Donald Trump’s victory.

From made-up tales, such as Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton’s involvement with a child sex ring — which led to one man firing his gun in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria — Americans quickly realized they’d been duped, and the worst part was there was nothing we could do about the election. It was over.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, “a majority of Americans now say they get news via social media, and half of the public has turned to these sites to learn about the 2016 presidential election.”

Facebook, one of the main culprits of spreading fake news, at first took no responsibility for its influence on the election. Then in a Facebook post on Dec. 15, the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, spoke up and said he and his team were working on changes to build “a more informed community and fight misinformation.”

On that same day, Facebook’s Newsroom page stated that its users would be better able to report fake news by “simply clicking the upper right hand corner of a post” from their smartphones. Zuckerberg said this would allow potentially false stories to receive additional factchecks.

Google and Twitter said they, too, would take measures to prevent fake news from spreading on their plat forms.

But social media experts don’t think that’s enough. A recent study from Sam Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University, indicates that students from middle school through college are easily tricked by misleading advertisements and unreliable sources in their social media feeds. On the university’s webpage on Nov. 22, Wineburg stated, “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

To help you sort through the noise, we’ve put together a list of 10 things you can do to stay informed.

1. Consider the URL.
Don’t trust websites that end in “lo,” for example, Newslo, which is a satirical site that mixes bits of facts with satire. Also, avoid websites that end in “.com.co” which are typically fake versions of real news. For example, if the ABC website you are browsing has a URL that says ABCnews.com.co instead of ABCgo.com, it’s not legit.

2. Read quotes carefully and follow up on research studies.
Most professional publications quote scientists, professors, and other experts in their fields. First, read quotes used in stories with a discerning eye. Do the people quoted have credibility? Dig up their backgrounds, but be sure to also research studies in which these “experts” were quoted to see if the information is consistent, or whether it exists at all. If you can’t track down any record of an original source, it’s a red flag.

3. Factcheck, factcheck, factcheck.
There are all sorts of ways to factcheck information in a news story — a few were already mentioned above.

In addition, there’s an internet library called the Internet Archive, based in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond, which houses searchable re cords and statements made by Trump. The archive (www.archive.org) contains a curated collection of Trump related ads, speeches, interviews, debates, etc., and is useful for factchecking statements made by Trump in the past and present day.

4. Compare headlines against actual content.
Hyperbolic language in headlines can be used to hook readers and coerce them to click on a story. If you clicked on a link because it had a controversial or enticing headline that suddenly seemed offtopic when you got to the story, or didn’t align with what you expected to see, it’s a pretty sure sign it’s just clickbait, not credible news.

5. Satire is OK — as long you can tell it’s not real.
Ah, The Onion, a website always good for a laugh and a share with your friends. You’re thinking, everyone knows about The Onion, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how many people don’t get satire, even if it reaches out and slaps them in the face. If you see that your friend has shared one of The Onion’s articles on social media, and they’ve clearly not gotten its humor, let them know it is not real. Even if you need to tell them privately so that you don’t embarrass them in front their peers, do it — they’ll be better off in the long run. Some publications have recently taken steps to make satirical content clearer. For example, The New Yorker has recently made changes to Andy Borowitz’s column, “The Borowitz Report.” The American writer and humorist has been contributing to The New Yorker with his satirical column since 2001, but just recently, his column has begun to appear with the label “not the news.”

6. See if other publications are covering big stories.
If you’ve found this incredible, ground breaking news story that other news sites haven’t covered, it’s likely an indication that it isn’t real. Many publications will pick up big news stories in some form or fashion.

7. Get your news from a variety of sources.
You may be a fan of The Associated Press, NPR, and the BBC, which is great — those should be your main sources of news — but you should also tap into other major news outlets to see what they are feeding their viewers. It’s good to get a broad overview of what’s swirling around out there, and it’ll help you better decipher which sources are biased or peddling misinformation.

8. Factcheck photos.
These days, it’s pretty hard to tell if a photo has been manipulated, especially at a glance. But there’s something you can do to verify if a photo has been altered. Simply copy the image and drop it into Google Images. This can help you track down the original image, and once you’ve done that, you can verify the original against the one in question.

9. Install a plugin.
Chrome has extensions that can detect fake news. You can install a browser plugin called FiB (devpost.com/soft ware/fib), which was recently created by four Princeton University students. The program helps verify links, photos, tweets, and more, for validity. There are also extensions called “BS Detector” and “Fake News Alert.”

10. Check publication dates.
How often do you find people sharing old stories on Facebook and Twitter? I’m talking about stories that were written years ago but are running another circuit around social media? A lot of people don’t bother to check publication dates on articles before going on a sharing frenzy, so the first thing you should do when you click on an online story is to check the date. Some publications even repost their older stories on social media, so you should always check the original date that the story was written to verify how current and relevant it is.