International Fact-Checking Day: 6 ways to break fakes

A quick guide to reading with skepticism and sharing a whole lot less – every day.

Each April 2, we celebrate International Fact-Checking Day. What started as a light-hearted idea in the wake of April Fools Day has become an important reminder of the toxic power of so-called fake news. We’ve all witnessed the effects of fact-free content being widely platformed and then spread recklessly.
It’s no laughing matter – these virulent forces of untruth became the fuel for the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But facts, as John Adams once said, are stubborn things. As active co-creators of our shared democratic reality, it’s on all of us to be responsible in our over-saturated information (and disinformation) environment. That means taking the air out of distortions and outright fabrications when we see them, and spreading accuracy instead of anarchy.
Here are six ways to keep the bunk at bay.

1. Read beyond the headline.

The simplest way to spot a fake is the most obvious way. Yet we know by how false information travels that lots and lots and lots of people never get past the headline before sending it to others. Recognize how dangerous this is and refrain from doing it.

2. Research the site's name. 

Learning whether a site is worth your time is usually a quick Google search away. Many fake news sites create realistic-sounding names for themselves, but may have already been flagged as fictitious by journalists or other watchdogs. Be aware before you share! 

3. Read the comments (ugh).

As awful as this might sound for your mental health, the comments attached to a news story can serve an important purpose – and often can save you work in verifying a story’s claims. Often, debunking occurs in the story comments. Dig around. 

4. Examine previous posts.

A social media account with only a few posts or followers may be an account trying to exploit a trending news story. Or, an account with hundreds of thousands of posts could be a bot blasting out hyperbolic stories every hour. Be wary of both.
Also: Don’t fall for imposters. Put screen names, especially those purporting to be well-known and reputable accounts, under extra scrutiny. For example, there’s a big difference in the content being shared from “@washingtonpost” and “@washingt0np0st.”

5. Mix up your daily news diet.

Naturally, we humans are are most receptive to information that confirms our own beliefs. That’s why we have to constantly challenge ourselves and remain wary of claims made in a “news” story. Remember the adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A variety of (legitimate) sources creates perspective, and perspective is good.

6. Look for the 'news indicators.'

The hallmarks of trustworthy news sites include: 
›› A date stamp that tells you when the story was published;
›› An About Us or Contact link somewhere on the page;
›› A byline, which allows you to check on what else the journalist has written; and
››  Hyperlinked sources to other legitimate websites.

Source: “Don’t Get Fooled Again,” Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post, April 2, 2017.

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