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Guide to News and Current Events

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What is "Fake News?"

For this guide "Fake News" arises from two purposes: to misinform the public or as "click-bait" to earn money for a website/publisher. "Fake News" is typically not a satire site, such as the Onion, which uses humorous or outrageous stories to comment on society. 

Sources may have numerous reasons why they would want to misinform the public. They may be trying to discredit certain individuals or ideologies, or they may be trying to gain support for certain ideologies or world views. These sites play on people's emotions to sway them with arguments that build on fear, anxiety, or anger. 

Sources interested in creating "click-bait" do not care about the political or social ideologies at the basis of their stories and articles. They are only interested in grabbing individuals' attentions. They use outrageous claims (similar to supermarket tabloids) to bring as many views to a site as possible, and make money via advertising. 

For both goals to be successful, content creators need to gain the trust, and have become very clever at masquerading as reputable news sources, and so it can be very difficult to tell the reliable news sources from distrustful ones. 

This guide is created to instruct you, the news consumer, and to give you the tools to be a skeptical and informed information consumer.

How to Detect a "Fake News" Site

  • Look at how you feel
    • Does the article illicit an emotional response from you? Does it play on your biases? Does it sound too outrageous? 
  • Look at the URL
    • A lot of sites whose goals are to misinform use URLs that are very close to legitimate organizations, like abcnew.com.co. The ".co" is an indication that the site is not affiliated with ABC News. Other examples would be Bloomberg.ma, which is meant to imitate Bloomberg.com. Along with the almost identical URL, these sites will also use similar colors, logos, and other branding to masquerade as the website for mainstream media sources.
  • Look at the headline
    • Is the information in the headline consistent with the rest of the story? Or it is more sensational than what the body of the article presents?
  • Look at the other stories on the site
    • Some fake sites go to great lengths to appear real. Do the other links on the site go where you'd expect them to go? Is the site filled with other wild/outrageous stories?
  • Look at the sources
    • Does the article rely on only one source, or does it never state the source of the information? Do they only quote from one person? 
  • Look at both sides
    • Does the article cover both sides of the argument or at least try to get comment from multiple stakeholders related to the topic?
  • Look for Typos
    • Does the site have a lot of grammatical or spelling errors. Is the formatting of the article inconsistent?
  • Look for the Evidence
    • Does the article make accusations but does not offer any information to support or disprove them?

Remember to Fact Check

Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean that is true. Here are some strategies for "checking twice."

  • Look at the author or the "about us" section of the page. 
  • Can you independently confirm the facts, either by finding a similar story else where, or finding the original source for the article. Many times news websites republish all or part of an article from another source instead of creating their own.
  • Is the argument logical? Do they make any leaps in judgment or leave out any information? Do they ask you to "trust them" instead of taking the time to offer evidence for their argument?
  • Be suspicious and remember Occam's Razor: the simplest hypotheses is usually the truth. Is the argument so complex that it is hard to follow? Does it feel like there could be multiple explanations for an event or occurrence?  
  • Try a reverse image search to see if the pictures/images on the site actually are original to the article or taken from another website.

Below are some Fact Checking websites to help you decide whether an article is reliable.

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