News

Fake News 101: Sourcing Truth in an Era of Alternative Facts

With news sources being more widespread and accessible than ever before, it's important to know the difference between #FakeNews and the truth.

If Americans have learned anything since the 2016 election, it’s that staying informed on current events is vital. Seriously, following the news is in your best personal interest right now more than ever. But, with alternative facts and fake news flying around, it’s also important to be wary of where your news is coming from.

What is “fake news?”

While the term “fake news” has been around since the 1890s, it jumped in to the media stream in 2017 when Donald Trump pointed at CNN during his first press conference after the election exclaiming, “You are fake news!” Ever since then, Trump has made a habit of calling out any news source he doesn’t agree with on his Twitter account, deeming them fraudulent liars.

What’s the point of fake news?

Fake news has been used as a political tactic for decades, but is usually referred to as “propaganda.”

Aside from the political relevance of the phrase, fake news affects every realm of the media. For this, you can thank the Internet.  As citizen journalism and blog sites continue to rise, it is easy to stumble upon a post online that isn’t credible, (these are usually shared by that crazy, right wing uncle you dread seeing on holidays).

Fake news is most commonly alluded to by clickbait headlines. Stretching the truth to create an enticing headline for the sake of “clicks” is a tactic used everywhere, most commonly in entertainment news headlines.

At the end of the day, people just want their opinions heard (and believed), as well as their articles read.

How is that legal?

When I first heard about fake news, the journalist in me immediate thought “libel”— “a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation.” Defamation is not illegal in the US, but it is considered a civil wrong, giving the victim the right to file a lawsuit.

Fake news is not illegal, it’s even protected under the First Amendment.

But, here’s where it gets tricky…

False statements containing claims that defame, or hurt the reputation of, an individual or group are not protected under the Constitution.

In short, articles containing opinion presented as “the truth” are legal, those publishing outright lies are not.

Here are some signs of an illegitimate news source:
  • No cited or attributed sources or quotes
  • Use of opinion words like “should” when the piece is not marked as “op-ed”
  • Over-the-top, slanderous claims about an individual or organization
  • Blog sites that are not affiliated with a publication
Legitimate News Sources

I’d say that a legitimate news source is made of nonpartisan and credible facts, and has a reliable following. What keeps their readers coming back? What makes their articles top-trending? FACTS, people, straight-up truth. I’ve rounded up some of my favorite, trusted news sources—

Politico

“The central mission of POLITICO, from birth to our current period of growth, has been to help sustain and vastly expand nonpartisan political and policy journalism. We all believe informing readers and holding leaders accountable is and will forever be essential to smart governance, regardless of shifts in technology and consumption habits.” -politico.com

Washington Post

The tagline on their homepage is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Need I say more? They’re here for the right reasons.

BuzzFeed News

I loved BuzzFeed long before I started using it for news gathering. The style that their articles are written in (lots of subheads, common verbiage) makes any subject matter comprehensible, which comes in handy when reading about political events.

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Remember, things are messy out there right now. It’s important to stay up-to-date, but only with accurate information that reports the facts, all bias aside. Just because you do not agree with something you’re reading, it doesn’t mean it’s incorrect.

Think you’ve got it down? Test out your skills here.


Also published on Medium.