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We have to choose to stop invasion of fake news

In recent days, widely shared quotes attributed to Pope Francis, in which he advocates for a merging of the religions of Christianity and Islam, have been debunked by the Vatican as fake.

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan recently addressed the scourge of fake news. Her main point: Fake news has to be confronted, but the government should stay out of it.

The difficulty in dealing with falsehoods in a society that guarantees free speech is resisting the urge to censor. The rights of free speech and assembly are so important that we tolerate such repugnant displays to maintain the same protections for the broader society.

The problem with media today, however, is that with 24/7 outlets needing to fill airtime and with junk produced in the either indistinguishable to the undiscerning from valuable material, we are in danger of being overwhelmed by the repugnant and the non-essential.

It is one thing to walk past a display of tabloid publications on the way to the checkout counter. Those who want to indulge have to make a choice and a purchase to bring it into their homes. The internet, on the other hand, floods us all with the same trash, and we have to choose not to have it invade our homes.

Facebook, for one, can certainly be more diligent, as it has promised, in ferreting out fake news with the cooperation of third-party fact checkers.

Most important in the long run, as Sullivan correctly points out, is educating ourselves and our children about how to judge what we’re seeing. “Schools should be redoubling their efforts to teach news literacy, civics and history,” she writes. And we should all engage “a slower trigger finger on the share buttons.”

We owe it to ourselves to take control of what we can within our own homes and on the screens of the increasing numbers of devices we consult constantly.

Be diligent. Question. Support media literacy programmes. Demand of our schools — and of ourselves — that our kids learn how to determine what is credible. The truth may be complex and, at times, difficult to get at. But it isn’t false. – NCR

How to handle ‘fake news’

FAKE news is not a new problem. But technology is making fake news common and tricky to decipher.

Although such stories are entirely made up, they’re often related to topics trending in the real news. These false reports, hoaxes and rumours are typically published on websites that look journalistic and professional.  The notorious fake news site abcnews.com.co, for instance, utilises a URL and logo nearly identical to the actual website for ABC News, a respected TV news outlet.  Additionally, fake news often appears in online posts, videos, memes and discussion forums.

Sometimes fake news outperforms real news in search engine results and social media shares. Even prominent journalists and government officials have been fooled. And fake news can have serious consequences, as impetuous consumers of news have engaged in illegal and violent behaviour as a result of believing an unfounded story.

So, how can you tell if a story is legit? Here are some tips:

Research who produced it. Most real news outlets have websites with an “About” section that provides a lot of information, such as the company that runs it, staff members, and a mission statement. If the language used seems odd, be skeptical.  You should also be able to find out more information about the news outlet in places other than that site. Wikipedia, for example, has entries for most media outlets and explicitly states which are fake news sites.

Examine the sources cited. Does the story cite and quote credible sources — a person with a name and a title? If not, or if they use anonymous or vague sources, such as “sources said,” “according to reports,” “friends say,” be suspicious.

Utilise fact-checking sites. Fake news stories that go viral are often exposed by such websites as Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com and FactCheck.org. Curated lists of fake news sites also exist, although they’re never comprehensive and are sometimes skewed by the creator’s preferences.

In addition to fake news, there are other types of dubious news:

Satire: Some fake news is created to entertain rather than mislead, but not all news consumers can tell the difference.

Advertorials: Advertisements about products and services may be disguised to look and sound like a news story. They’re frequently placed on social media sites as “promoted” or “sponsored” content. They can also appear in newspapers, magazines and on TV.

Government-controlled news: Media that’s government-owned or restricted from publishing what they want should be viewed skeptically. Few countries offer the same press freedoms as the United States. In China, for example, many popular media outlets are government-run and censorship is common.

Biased news: While no media outlet is completely objective, some don’t even try to be. For example, Fox News and Breitbart tailor their news to right-leaning audiences while Huffington Post and MSNBC have a noticeable liberal bias.

Irresponsible journalism: Trusted news outlets sometimes spread false information. Sources may lie to reporters. Journalists can fall victim to pranks or hackers. Laziness and deadline pressures can cause mistakes. Unethical scribes have exaggerated or concocted news on many occasions.

To be better informed, here’s some final advice:

Stop getting news from social media. Most social media feeds are echo chambers, offering limited perspectives on a narrow range of information. Facebook is useful for many things, but it’s not a news outlet. Its goal is to keep you clicking, and it tweaks your newsfeed so you only see content you like. Similarly, Twitter’s feed only shows content posted by people you choose to follow.

Don’t rely on one media outlet. Although commonly grouped together as “the media,” news sources are not monolithic. Each news outlet has its own approach to reporting on what’s happening in the world. Diversify your news consumption by seeking out multiple news sources and reading a variety of perspectives on issues.

Support good journalism. Ultimately consumers will be the gatekeepers by deciding which stories get clicks and shares and which stories don’t get attention. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Don’t spread false information. – Mark Grabowski @ Washington Examiner

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