Growing up in pre-internet world, there were really only two ways to find out what was going on in the world.
Most homes in the neighborhood received the newspaper daily. Tossed at the door by a bike-riding paperboy and read by mom and dad over their morning coffee and toast, the paper contained all the news of the day. If it was printed in the paper it was trusted, the reader resting assured that a reporter, writer, and editor had done their homework and checked their facts before sending it to the presses.
Then there was the evening news. On TV’s across the country, viewers could pick one of only three channels and watch the evening news at dinnertime, delivered to them by trusted anchormen like Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw. They delivered just the facts, an unbiased, factual delivery of the day’s news that could be trusted.
Well, those days are over.
The number of Americans who read the newspaper is on the decline, and has been for years. Likewise fewer people get their news from the traditional nightly news programs that were once the pride of the big three networks.
The internet changed everything. Computers at our desk and devices in our hands now provide us with all the news we need, anytime we want it. We can catch up on the day’s events over a coffee break, on the commute home, or while falling asleep, all with the simple push of a button or tap of a screen. No need to don a bathrobe and slippers to retrieve a soggy newspaper or wait until 6:30 PM for our favorite anchor to go live.
While the internet and our constant access to it has made obtaining the days’ news more convenient than ever, it comes with a big risk. Gone are the days of trusting that a reporter, writer, and editor had checked the facts, presenting you with news you could trust. Links on social media and other sites may look and sound trustworthy, legitimate, and believable, but are they?
Fake news is everywhere. We hear the phrase daily, from the White House on down. But where does it come from? How does it work? And is it really fake? Americans want to stay informed and learn about what’s going on in the world from reliable sources, but can anyone be trusted anymore?
Let’s take a deep dive into the world of fake news so you can learn to identify it when you see it.
WHAT IS FAKE NEWS?
Fake news is simply stories, reports, or posts that are purposely created by people desiring to misinform and mislead readers. Their goal is often to promote a political agenda, create confusion about an issue, and even to turn a profit for an online business.
Fake news reports are often highly deceptive, deliberately created to look like a legitimate news source and web address so that gullible readers will be duped. Not to be confused with the urban legends we grew up with, or even biased reporting, fake news is designed to mislead and deceive.
It’s so easy to do, and we fall for it hook, line and sinker. Because we no longer rely on those trusted news sources but instead look to the internet, we can easily fall prey to fake news, even compounding the problem by spreading it ourselves!
TYPES OF FAKE NEWS
There are several different kinds of fake news on the internet. Readers should beware of all of them. They include:
- Propaganda – News stories designed to disparage a candidate, promote a political cause, and mislead voters
- Sloppy Journalism – Stories containing inaccurate information produced by writers and editors who have not properly vetted a story. Retractions do little to fix the problem, even if there is one, since the story has spread and the damage done.
- Sensationalized Headlines – Often a story may be accurate but comes with a misleading or outrageous headline. Readers may not read past it, but take everything they need to know from this skewed title.
- Clickbait – These stories are deliberately created to create traffic on a website. Advertising dollars are at stake, and gullible readers fall for it by the millions.
- Satire – Parody websites like The Onion and The Daily Mash produce satirical stories that are believed by uninformed readers. The stories are written as satire and not meant to be taken literally, but not everyone knows that.
- Average Joe Reporting – Sometimes a person will post an eyewitness report that goes viral, but it may or may not be true. The classic example of this was a tweet by Eric Tucker in Austin, Texas in 2015. Posting a picture of a row of charter busses, Tucker surmised and tweeted that Trump protesters were being bussed in to rally against the President-elect. The tweet was picked up by multiple media outlets, and Mr. Trump himself, going viral in a matter of hours. The only problem is, it wasn’t true.
It’s so easy to be fooled by these types of fake news stories. Even legitimate news agencies can be duped.