Updated: Mar 27
In a day of information overload, the spread of fake news is inevitable, but certainly we consider fake news to create unnecessary anxiety, false hopes and misinformation, hence it is unethical. That being said, this does not mean that you cannot play a role in identifying fake news (for yourself) and avoiding the destructive spread of fake news (with others). Here are some essential steps for you to identify and cancel fake news:
1. Scan the headline
The headline is usually the first thing one sees before clicking on an article to read. Many media outlets tend to use shocking, emotionally-loaded, and provocative titles as click-bait to gain the reader's attention. But there are many things that can go wrong with headlines. For instance, they can be misleading, false, and an exageration of the true facts. While catchy headlines are not necessarily a sign of fake news, focusing on them alone is not sufficient to learn the whole story, yet alone to spread it with others.
2. Scan the content
The content of the article will say a lot about the article as a whole, this is why it is important to scan the text of the article and ask yourself these questions:
- Does the information make sense?
- Is there evidence to support the claims?
- Is it an opinion piece or news?
- Are the photographs used specific to the story being told, or have they been taken from another story/context?
- Does the content match the headline?
If the majority of your answer to these questions is "NO", then the probability that the article is fishy are high. But don't make any conclusions yet, keep reading!
3. Scan the source
You typically always hear of credible and noncredible sources. Certain organizations have worked hard to gain a good reputation when it comes to news dissemination, and science communciation among other things. Some of these reputable platforms include: Nature Journal, Science Journal, STAT News, Scientific American, The New York Times, etc. This does not mean that other platforms or websites that are not famous or well known are the source of all fake news content. Double-checking the source of the platform/publisher and the links to the references of the content of the article says a lot about the credibility and transparency of the article. In a nutshell, when looking into the source, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the domain of the website the same as the hyperlink?
- Who is the publisher/website? What other content do they share/promote?
- Is it a news outlet? personal blog? etc.
- Do what you do best: Google the source, what comes up?
4. Scan the author
You're almost there, but not quite. Now it's time to dig into the author, the person that takes ownership of the content. It is important to follow these steps, before trusting any information. The same applies here, look up the author, conduct a background check, and see whether they are legit. Think of these questions:
- Is the author an expert in the field?
- Does it seem like the author has a conflict of interest?
- Is the author stating facts or sharing their opinion?
- Does the author exist? (believe me, you would be surprised!)
5. Scan the publication date
The publication date, while not necessarily a sign of fake news, can place things into perspective. Is it recent, is it old? It could be that the author describes an old event in curren times. It is important to put things into perspective.
6. Scan other articles from different sources
Reading one article and making conclusions is like telling everyone that they should make their bed in the morning, because your mother told you so. It's innacurate, biased, and insufficient to draw conclusions (your mother will never agree to this). This is why, reading about the same topic from different sources is essential to see where the facts overlap and where they don't. Gaining insight on a variety of opinions from different reputable or non-reputable sources is better than trusting a source that you're not very sure of.
7. Ask an expert
Sometimes with all what is available online, some of us feel it is not enough (ironic, right?), we still can't seem to be convinced. That's where experts come into the picture. If your question is health-related, ask a doctor. If you question in research-related, ask a doctor (the other kind!). If your question is ethics/philosphy-related, ask an ethicist or philosopher, etc. The best way to do so, is to approach them by sharing with them your worries/suspicisons and hopefully they'll be able to provide you with trustful information to help you make up your mind. Mental health (or any health) related news and information can have serious consequences if they are fake or not backed up by robust evidence. My mom always told me to be better safe than sorry...So our advice to you: Ask an expert anyway!
8. Scan your own thoughts
The most important step has come. Now that you've collected all the necessary information, you can now scan your own thoughts, follow your own intuition and reasoning, and finally make up your mind: Is it fake or is it news?
Now (and only now), if you are convinced, then you can choose to share it with your followers, friends and family. Are you not convinced? Then do no spread this information, unless you have something to say about it. Who said it was easy?
Don't forget your FAKE NEWS Decision Tree Guide!
FYI.This article is inspired by i-Consent's article on how to fight health fake news.