The advent of the internet and social media gives users the opportunity to produce or share a blizzard of information, often true but also often false and misleading and sometimes deliberately malicious and/or dangerous. Many consumers/producers of social media don’t have the resources or time to conduct complicated internet searches to determine information accuracy to know who and what to believe.
What can the average citizen do? Before sharing or producing a story on social media, pause and ask some questions.
The following tips and resources are steps reputable news reporters use to sort fact from fiction.
Watch for Frequent Misinformation Tricks
- TOTALLY FALSE STORIES. Information published by malicious actors to deceive, harm and usually to promote their agenda, such as a national enemy trying to undermine democracy.
- CLICK BAIT. False stories intended to make money from ad clicks.
- PHOTOS AND VIDEOS. Doctored to add false elements ranging from simple photo alterations to sophisticated “deep fake” videos that make people appear to be saying things they didn’t.
- IMPOSTOR WEBSITES. Sites that impersonate legitimate news sources or other authentic sites.
- MANIPULATED CONTENT. Genuine information or imagery manipulated or taken out of context to deceive.
- MISLEADING CONTENT. Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual. For example, using an inaccurate set of statistics to prove a point.
- SATIRE AND PARODY. Not only the usual comedians, but sometimes an entire website or publication is satire, something you learn only by reading the ‘About’ section.
- OPINION PIECES. Blogs, podcasts, editorials and op eds in newspapers and magazines, radio and cable TV personality shows, etc. all may reflect the author’s biases and level of truth-telling.
- “SPONSORED” STORIES. Advertising! Even if they look like news.
- UNINTENTIONAL MISTAKES. Reputable news sources publish corrections. However, these are sometimes hard to find.
Tips for sorting fact from fiction
- EMOTIONS: Consider whether the headline talks of exposing secrets/ conspiracies or evokes a strong emotion — anger, disbelief, fear, elation. These are hallmarks of biased information and enough to warn you to investigate further.
- SOURCE: Is it legitimate? Is it clear who published the story? Explore the publishing website to determine if it is promoting a certain point of view.
- AUTHOR: Is the author of the story named? What are the author’s credentials?
- HEADLINE: Does the information in the story support what the headline proclaims?
- DATE: What is the article date? Often old or already discredited news is spun as new. How long has the social media account been around? A surge of new accounts with few followers can be a sign of disinformation efforts. See Twitter’s and Facebook’s profiles for date joined.
- EXPERTS: Does the story cite sources and provide information allowing you to assess the expertise and credibility of those sources?
- EVIDENCE: Is there evidence to support claims in the story? Does the research cited actually exist?
- LEGITIMATE WEBSITE: Does the story/photo come from a website that has an “About” section? Are sponsors named? Is a phone number, address or contact info provided?
- PHOTO: To learn if a photo has been manipulated, do a reverse image search using TinEye, Google Images or Reverse Image Search.
- CORROBORATE: Do a key word search to see if there are other articles, with multiple, named sources, that corroborate the information. Are other news sources reporting the same news?
- BIASES: Check yours! No matter your partisanship, a certain amount of emotional skepticism is healthy.
- QUESTIONS TO ASK:
- Is this story one-sided?
- Is it a fair presentation that seeks to acknowledge opposing viewpoints?
- Does it give anyone accused a chance to respond?
- Has it pursued the truth independently vs merely repeating what people say?
Use fact checking sites:
- Report misinformation to the hosting site: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube
- Here is a great New York Times documentary about Russian disinformation.
- First Draft News: firstdraftnews.org
- News Literacy Project guide to coronavirus misinformation; enroll in NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom.
- The Trust Project, a global consortium of more than 200 news outlets, has developed a set of journalism transparency standards called the “Trust Indicators.” The Denver Post joined the Trust Project in March, 2020. Their Policies and Standards section describes the types of stories they carry and much more.
- The Colorado Sun runs “Credibility Indicators” on its news stories.
- Washington Post, “You are probably spreading misinformation. Here’s how to stop.” June 5, 2020
- How to Identify Fake News — The University of North Dakota website for students, which has many other resources.
- Media Bias/Fact Check rates 3,300 media sources for bias, daily fact check
- NewsGuard, a browser extension/mobile app that rates the reliability of news websites. Free for users of Edge, courtesy of Microsoft.
- International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles, based at the Poynter Institute.
- Center for Media Literacy: medialit.org
- Media Literacy Now: Medialiteracynow.org
- New York Times story about Colorado efforts on disinformation: “Facing a Deluge of Misinformation, Colorado Takes the Offensive Against It”
- U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Homeland Threat Assessment.
If you have other tips and resources to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Colorado Press Women is passionate about helping people learn to analyze the credibility of information, claims and sources and about increasing trust in journalism. We’re proud of how hard journalists work to verify their facts and report accurately.