Is News Authentic or Fake?
By Adam Sugerman
Before the 2018 presidential election, for example, one of my friends opened up his email, saw a headline, printed it out, and exclaimed, “See, I told you this is how he/she is. Here is the proof.” And I responded, “Believe half of what you see and nothing what you hear.”
One of the challenges facing educators and students in performing research and obtaining facts is the [lack of] veracity of information. According to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College as reported by Pace University librarians, there are four broad categories of fake news:
1. Misleading websites commonly shared on social media. Articles often distort headlines that evoke strong emotions such as anger. The goal, according to Zimdars, is to increase “likes”, “shares”, and thus generate profits.
2. Websites and printed materials that publish misleading and unreliable information. One easy item to see: Sites that have typographical and grammatical errors. If these sites do not have a human editor overseeing and questioning published material, they probably don’t double check for the truth.
3. Websites and emails with sensationalist headlines specifically written to lure people into believing an item with the intent of generating advertising revenue — often at the expense of quality and accuracy — especially for social media exposure to attract “click-throughs.”
4. Satire and comedy websites and pseudo news programs. Many of these offer commentary on politics and society, but are not intended for news consumption. Many readers or viewers interpret the information literally as factually accurate versus the intended purpose of satire to promote thought and conversation while entertaining.
Fake news and “newspeople” with partisan agendas have been a problem throughout human history. With publishing and broadcasting barriers less costly, and the ability to manipulate images and sound easier, the amount of information to which we are exposed has increased multifold.
The question for students and other citizens: Can a source be trusted? The Russian expression Doveryai, no proveryai (Russian: ???????, ?? ????????) that Ronald Reagan frequently employed in his dealings with Mikhael Gorbachev is as apropos as ever.
The following are a few questions to help create your own guidelines:
Is the information verified or can it be verified? Does the article contain references to experts? Are there links to the sources? Do these links contain information important for the topic? Be especially weary about bait-clicking external websites commonly found after the end of the article.
Is the author an expert in the topic? Is she or he a journalist? Did the writer witness the event? Where and how did she or he procure the facts in the story? Was the article machine generated? If yes, did a human review and edit the story? Does the story seem written with very bad grammar?
Is the information in the article fact-checked? And by whom? If you see a fact that is incorrect, it’s a good sign that other information in the article is erroneous.
If the information comes from a website, is the URL authentic, or is it a fake site? If the publication is based in the U.S., does it have a country code affixed to the name (e.g., EducationUpdate.com.co)? Does the logo or icon seem more pixelated than usual? Has the website been hacked?
Who supports or funds the publication or website? Is it a government? If the publication or website’s owner is a private, independent publisher, who are its advertisers? Do the articles present a particular slant on a consistent basis? Is the article an opinion disguised as a news story? Are there opposing viewpoints presented in a fair manner? Some articles will provide a particular point of view, which makes it preferable to research other points of view, perhaps from other publications, to form an unbiased decision.
A reputable source and a competent editor help build trust between the publisher and the reader. Part of an editor’s job is to alter items in writing that must change (e.g., to make sure facts are correct, to correct grammatical and typographical errors, to remove bias and racism), that might change based on her or his—or the publication’s—criteria (ie, consistency in the publication’s writing style), and that ought to employ a subjective criteria such as making text sound more attractive through literary devices such as alliteration or removing clichés. That trust is sacred, but the reader/viewer should stay cautious and feel skeptical now more than ever before. #
Adam Sugerman teaches, publishes education materials at Palmiche Press, and serves as copublisher of Education Update.