Fake News (and you)

Even if “fake news” doesn’t cause harm it still wastes everyone’s time. We need to see it for what it is and help others do the same.

This article is meant to be practical so I won’t be too precise about the definition. I’m including as fake news any material that is insincere. The creator wants to influence you, but is not open about why they want to and how they’re doing it.

They tell deliberate lies – or take no trouble to check the facts. Or maybe the words are technically true, but the choice of facts is so unbalanced that it gives you a false impression.

Start the Fightback

You don’t even have to get out of your chair. Part of the fake news problem is the attitude of people reading it. Try to be more sceptical about news generally. Many people confuse this with being cynical.

Two excerpts from the Oxford Dictionary show that cynics and sceptics are different types of people:

  • Cynic: One disposed to deny and sneer at the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.
  • Sceptic: one who maintains a doubting attitude

So being cynical isn’t very nice, but there’s nothing wrong with being sceptical. It protects us from believing news just because it’s exciting or shocking. We run a few tests in our head. What kind of questions should we ask? Librarians would able to offer good advice. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has published what you see below.

How to spot fake news
Find a list of other language versions here

Next time you see something sensational you might want to check it against the chart and see whether it passes the tests. What else can help?

Try listening to all sides of an argument, especially if you hold a strong opinion. Even if it doesn’t change your point of view, knowing why others think differently will help you to be clearer on your reasons for thinking as you do.

Of course, you’re not guaranteed to get to the truth that way. Everyone may be distorting the facts even if they don’t mean to. Fact-checking websites may help. These are often run by charities and try to be unbiased (although no human can be completely unbiased).

Fact Checking

British

Full Fact is the UK’s independent factchecking charity
Channel 4: FactCheck
Independent: Fake News

International

FactCheck.Org
Snopes: What’s New
KnowYourMeme.Com

Other programmes and web content don’t provide fact-checking services but claim to get to the real story behind all the politics and propaganda, so they’re worth a look:

Science

SenseAboutScience.Org
What eight years of writing the Bad Science column have taught me (Ben Oldacre)

Listen/Watch

BBC Radio 4: More Or Less

Twitter

Of course, Twitter has a special place in the fake news world, but many of the principles of knowing what’s fake are the same as for other media (just a note about the “Twitter Verified Account”, indicated by a tick. Twitter has checked that the person is correctly identified. It’s useful to know that a real person, not a “bot” (software) is running the account, but of course it doesn’t mean that Twitter is guaranteeing that every Tweet is true.

Repeat Offenders

Since you can’t spend all your time fact-checking it’s helpful to improve the quality of news you see. If you find that a site has a bad reputation, you can stay away from it.
List of Fake News Web Sites

Explaining it to the Next Generation

These skills will benefit your kids for life, so here are a few things you could show them (They’re for very young kids and don’t have any sound. I’ll post something better when I find it):
Who Writes the Internet Anyway?
Don’t jump to conclusions, #AskforEvidence
It’s ok to #AskforEvidence

Deep Dive

If you want to go deeper into this topic, here are a couple of deep dives:
Podcast: The Ugly Truth (Sense About Science at the British Library)
Editorial: Sky Views: Facebook’s fake news threatens democracy

Fact Checking

Sky

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