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How to Recognize Fake News & Halt the Spread of Misinformation

Thanks to the prevalence of the internet and easy access to it through smartphones and other devices, all the information in the world can now fit in our pockets. Anything you could ever want to know is just a few clicks away. Unfortunately, the growth of information on the internet has also given rise to fake news and misleading or factually incorrect information. The problems associated with misinformation and fake news continue to worsen, often resulting in further division in our communities and across our country.

Everyone who spends time on the internet will be exposed to fake news at some point, and many will be taken in by false claims. However, internet users with certain demographic identities are more susceptible. Those who create and spread fake news know this and target specific populations that may not have developed the skills and nuance to sort fact from fiction online, those who tend to have more struggles with technology and information. 

Digital ‘immigrants’ and digital ‘natives’

Seniors may be particularly at risk for fake news because they’re “digital immigrants” who learned to use computers and similar devices at an older age. This translates into seniors not being as fluent or comfortable with technology or as readily able to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate sources of information.

“Digital natives,” on the other hand, are those who grew up in a world with the internet, computers and smartphones and therefore have had more experience with the technology and are better able to understand its subtleties. It’s comparable to the difference between being fluent in a language you were raised with versus learning a new language when you’re older.

Fortunately, there are ways to combat and slow the widespread dispersal of fake news. It just requires learning to protect yourself and educating oneself to differentiate between sources for gathering accurate and verified information.

Types and sources of fake news

Fake news comes in many forms and can be tricky to recognize. It can be found in any form of online media, particularly news articles, but also in a plethora of videos, posts and pictures on the internet that present inaccurate information as truthful. It’s posted online for many reasons – amusement, testing boundaries or more nefarious purposes such as influencing segments of the population, spreading chaos, confusion, distrust and even dividing groups and creating conflict. Misleading bits of information are often found and shared through social media, where people read and interact with posts by others.

Fake news stories are usually either completely false or have some truth, but they aren’t entirely accurate in the presentation. The first type is easier to recognize, while the second can be more difficult and cause more confusion. Sometimes fake news is unintentionally spread when something is misunderstood or taken out of context. Still, it can be done deliberately to twist what someone said or did to persuade readers to believe something untrue.

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How to spot fake news

When trying to determine if an article or information is fact or fiction, there are some questions you can ask to help yourself spot fake news.

  • Does the website have a suffix indicating legitimacy, such as .gov, .edu or .org?
  • Does it come from a known media outlet such as a reputable news station or other organization?
  • Who’s the author, and what are their credentials?
  • Are other major news stations or sources reporting similar information?
  • Does the article itself include linked sources or citations to back up its claims?
  • Is the website selling a product?
  • Is there an obvious bias against a person or group?
  • Is the headline attention-grabbing and unbelievable?

Also, just because you see a video, hear audio or see a picture doesn’t mean it’s accurate. There may be missing context or it’s from a different time or place. It could be edited with parts cut out, slowed down or sped up. It’s even possible to add or remove both audio and visual content.

Remember that just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it’s fake news. Fake news refers to something that is demonstrably false or cannot be verified.

How to combat or prevent the spread of misinformation

Fake news is created to be shared. Articles, pictures and videos designed to mislead can quickly spread once people start sharing with their friends. Creators often rely on provoking an emotional response, especially fear or outrage, making you feel like it’s your duty to share this vital information with others. Even commenting on or reacting to a post can increase its visibility, causing it to spread. Some rules to abide by to limit the influence of this misinformation include:

  • Don’t share any resources without pausing to fact-check them.
  • Report posts or articles that are intentionally misleading or inaccurate.
  • Read more than just the catchy, attention-grabbing headlines.
  • Educate others: don’t be afraid to call it out when someone shares fake news (but be kind because the person sharing it doesn’t likely realize it’s fake).

Once you understand how to recognize fake news, you can be an active part of stopping the spread of misinformation.

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