Fake news? Finding trustworthy sources of news on the internet

Fake news has been one of the buzzwords of 2017. How can you check the trustworthiness of the news you read?

Posted on 20 January 2017 -
Tibus BY Tibus

One of the buzz phrases of 2017 so far has been ‘fake news’. The phrase began its rise to prominence during last year’s US presidential campaign when the proliferation of news stories with little or no factual basis became unavoidable, partly because Republican candidate Donald Trump shared some stories that would fall into the category on his own Twitter account during the campaign and drew attention form the mainstream media.

Since his election, Trump has sought to take ownership of the phrase by levelling it at CNN in the wake of the alleged Russian dossier story.

In a press conference, he told CNN reporter Jim Acosta: “I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”

How did it all start?

Clickbait is nothing new. As soon as people were able to make money from internet publishing, it became clear that spurious or titillating headlines attracted clicks and were therefore most profitable. A more recent phenomenon - and one that has perhaps been driven by the ease of publishing via social media websites - is the use of clickbait and its offshoot, fake news, to curry political favour or, more commonly, outrage.

Just as people tend to by newspapers their reinforce their existing world view, so they are more likely to click, like and share content that does the same. The issue arises because newspapers are forced to have some accountability for what they publish, whereas the admin of a Facebook page is not.

What’s the answer? 

Trump might have actually done more to find a solution to the fake news problem than anybody else has managed. In the wake of the election, CNN has advertised a job vacancy for a reporter to debunk fake news stories while the BBC has announced the creation of a Reality Check team that will also investigate fake news.

The mainstream media’s new-found interest in fake news is welcome because until now there has been an expectation that Facebook and the other social media websites to police the content. At its most basic level, Facebook hosts other people’s content, as do we, so there is definitely a case for this particular problem being way above their station.

The likes of CNN and BBC have a vested interest in not losing viewers and readers to less reputable stories. Debunking fake stories is a good start, but some degree of education to help the general public start to perform basic fact-checking for themselves is likely to have a greater long-term effect.

Of course, there will always be some people who would favour ideological reinforcement over the truth.

How to uncover fake news

So, what can you do to debunk myths during your internet browsing. These steps will stand you in good stead:

1. Check the publication

Who is telling you this? Do recognise the name of the publication in question? If not, is there anything in the story to give you good reason to believe it is reputable?

2. Check their source

There are occasions when even mainstream media outlets cannot reveal the source of a story, but there will usually be an indication as to where the information has come from and why you should trust in it. If this is absent, start to get suspicious.

3. Cross-reference

If this story is as big/shocking/infuriating as it appears then you can be sure that other publications will have picked it up. A quick Google search of the main point of the article should tell you if the story has been covered be publications that you trust.