By Darren Johnson
This story is not “fake news.”
Here is how you can tell: You can see my byline above, and I have a full journalistic resume online. You can find our physical address in the paper. Our URL doesn’t go to a series of scammy ads that will hijack your computer. We have a print edition. This is a paper that has been around for seven years.
But fake news may have swayed the recent presidential election, and it’s ruining the Internet.
A new Jumpshot study suggests Facebook users are 2.5 times more likely to click on fake news links than legitimate links to real newspapers. Several articles say that it’s mostly millennials writing the fake news, and making a lot of money from it. Another report, from Stanford University, said that millennials have trouble discerning between real news and “sponsored content.”
An added problem is, it seems that people old enough to be the parents of the millennials are the ones sharing the fake news.
We’re seeing what’s happening after a generation canceled their print newspaper subscriptions and instead started getting their “news” from comedy talk show monologues and Twitter.
How Does This Apply to You?
Besides making the Internet a more chaotic place, the spread of fake news is going to affect you as a student. Have you ever had a professor tell you not to use Wikipedia in your citations because it’s untrustworthy? At least that site is moderated, and bad information may soon be righted; but fake news has no conscience. If you cite a fake news site in your paper, a discerning professor may give you a lesser grade. Besides, we all want to be better-informed citizens; fake news makes us wary of all news, which isn’t good – because some news entities are working hard to be truthful.
First, Look at the URL
Step one to determine if a news site is fake or not is to look at the URL. Does it look official, as nytimes.com, usatoday.com or wsj.com do? Have you heard of the news organization before? Also, ask someone you trust if they had heard of this news organization before.
Then Look at the Logo
Is the site’s logo official, or does it look slightly off? Perhaps the color scheme and fonts are a little different than the real news organization’s official logo. You can find official logos for a news organization on Google Image Search.
Look at the Ads
Are the ads on the site for miracle creams? Do they have disgusting images of some medical abnormality? Do they tell you how Mama June lost 150 pounds? Do they just seem a bit “off?” Reputable companies will not advertise on scammy web sites.
Google Is Your Friend
While Google often gets fooled by fake news sites and posts their links, you can use the search engine to at least look up the author’s name. See if he or she has a real journalistic resume, or is this person mostly known for writing junk? Or, if there is no byline on the article, it most likely is biased. A real writer will put his/her reputation on the line and be accountable.
Google News Is Your Friend, Too
Google also has a news aggregator called Google News. You can find it atop the search field on the Google home page. Type in some of the unique keywords from the article in question and see if the article shows up. If it’s fake news, it may not. If other, more reputable organizations are writing similar stories, perhaps use them instead for your Works Cited page.
Does the Publication Have a Printed Edition?
While there are some web-only newspapers that are trustworthy, most of the trustworthy sites are affiliated with a printed newspaper or magazine or a major TV outlet, like ABC, NBC or CBS. Why would a news organization with a printed or TV edition be more accountable? They have a physical address, salaried writers (as opposed to writers who write for clicks) and likely have been around for decades. Again, they are accountable and can’t disappear into the ether if things go wrong, unlike fake-news sites.
While many professors will want to see at least one newspaper article on your Works Cited page, and it’s way easier to find newspaper articles on the web vs. in physical print editions, you still should question anything you find on the web, as noted above, before citing it. Fake news may make a fool out of you.