9 Steps to Stop Fake News

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

July 5, 2020

You may have heard: we are in unprecedented times. As I finish writing this, we are in a global pandemic. We just finished three months of distance learning where parents were also expected to work from home. We are surrounded by confusion, fear, and a need for security. While these things existed in the Before Time, the need for knowledge and safety feel more fleeting than before. And, the need for good information is at, what feels like, an all-time high. But, how do you get good information amidst all the noise? How do you know what source to trust? How do you know what questions to ask? In answering these questions, we must pledge to stop fake news.

I have had several conversations over the last several months. One loved one expressed frustration, repeatedly, with information sharing in today’s day and age and asked me, the bibliophile, where I get my news. I got on my soapbox and ranted, so now I thought I’d bring that rant to you. 

It’s more than just where I get my news. Part of it is really engaging critical thinking and taking into consideration some guidelines for sussing out bad information. We see the rise of misinformation, politicization, and more – and it feels like every year, every season, every crazy news event – that gets even worse. We have a responsibility to stop fake news.

I am compiling several sources that had pretty good lists and relaying them to you. Each serves as purpose for general and specific types of information sharing. 

Where I Get My News

First, here’s a shortlist of where I tend to get my news. Each organization has their own implicit bias, and in some way engages in the things I will warn you about. This is a mix of national and local places I like to keep tabs on, and a few international sources as well. I pick this (especially the national and international) because they do a better job than average for NOT doing the things I will warn you about. 

  • NPR
  • The Los Angeles Times
  • NY Times 
  • The Independent 
  • The Guardian
  • The Atlantic
  • MLive
  • The Detroit Free Press
  • OregonLive
  • The Willamette Week 
  • The Portland Mercury
  • Pamplin News Media (aka the Portland Tribune) 
  • Select filters from Apple News+

My Tips to Stop Fake News

These are a summary of what I’ll share below and some things that feel very important to highlight. I am old enough to remember when the Al Gore invented the internet. I grew up watching email bloom, search engines condense to one, and GIFs come full circle on web pages. One of the first things we learned and we were cautioned about when the internet was growing up was to always always question what we saw because anyone can start a website. 

This liberation is both amazing and fearsome. It’s terrific that there are no gate keepers. But, without gatekeepers, we need to be vigilant in the news we share. I believe we all have a responsibility to do the following: 

  1. Think before you share.
  2. Question cute pictures with quotes, and research them.
  3. Be cautious of weasel words! 
  4. Be very cautious of inflammatory headlines!
  5. Remember, anyone can start a YouTube Channel.
  6. If you can’t replicate the conclusion, give the piece a pass.
  7. Research, research, research.
  8. Ask, what does this author/director want me to think?
  9. Be brave and squash misinformation you see. 

Journalistic Questions to Ask to Stop Fake News

When consuming something that appears to be a report, like a journal or news article or a video espousing truths, Marshall Allen of ProPublica invites us to consider the following:

  • Is the Presentation One-Sided?
  • Is There an Independent Pursuit of the Truth?
  • Is There a Careful Adherence to the Facts?
  • Are Those Accused Allowed to Respond?
  • Are All Sources Named and Cited, and if Not, Is the Reason Explained?
  • Does the Work Claim Some Secret Knowledge?

These questions are really important anytime someone shares something on xyznewmedia.com site, and especially on social media. We have more news sources available to us, some are household names with broad reputations, and others are not. Regardless of reputation, all should be read with a critical eye. Some of my favorite news articles write opinion pieces and they try to pass them off as fact! 

The Huffington Post Offered These Steps

  1. Read Past The Headline
  2. Check What News Outlet Published It
  3. Check The Publish Date And Time
  4. Who Is The Author?
  5. Look At What Links And Sources Are Used
  6. Look Out For Questionable Quotes And Photos
  7. Beware of Confirmation Bias
  8. Search If Other News Outlets Are Reporting It
  9. Think Before You Share

Their article is linked below – but it’s another way to be hyper critical about what your’e reading. Headlines, for example, are designed to catch your attention. Do they have those ubiquitous weasel words? Can you back up the data? How did it make you feel? If you feel triggered, there is probably a reason why! Temper your emotions and read past the headline. And, it cannot be said enough: think before you share.

Stop Fake News in Science

A friend shared these tips specific to reading scientific articles. This is created by a UK blogger and scientist who runs the website Compound Chem. The graphic has more detail. But, overall, look for the following: 

  1. Sensationalized headlines
  2. Misinterpreted results
  3. Conflicts of interest
  4. Correlation and causation
  5. Unsupported conclusions
  6. Problems with sample size
  7. Unrepresentative samples used 
  8. No control group used
  9. No blind testing used
  10. Selective reporting of data 
  11. Unreplicable results 
  12. Non-peer reviewed material 

Conclusion 

We have a responsibility to each other. We need to be the adults that we are. If we were in a burning theatre with children, would we start jumping up and down pointing in various directions where the exits are? Or, would we model calm behavior for the kids? Would we line up, take a deep breath, and orderly get ourselves out of the burning theatre? 

Anytime we have a situation – an election, a global pandemic – one way to consider it is that it is the burning theatre. It is the situation that demands responsibility and stewardship. Stop sharing things willy-nilly. Put your grown-up pants on, and be responsible in your sharing of information. 

Resources 

9 steps to stop fake news

4 Comments

  1. Viginia

    Very well said. Especially right now, we don’t know what to believe. Very helpful.

    Reply
    • Michelle Lasley

      Thank you so much for reading and taking it in. Can’t wait to hear how any of these many tips help.

      Reply
  2. Stu

    I find it amazing how the Huffington post list leverages your own personal biases to help you discover your own truth. Remember the two most important rules in journalism:

    1. Know your audience
    2. Tell them what they want to hear

    There is a very real reason why CNN and Fox news have a different subscriber base, they each pander to individual persons’ biases. Michelle’s list includes research, which ideally should include sources that you don’t like or maybe don’t trust. For example, If I read a story that is retold by both CNN and Fox News, I can presume that the basics are viable. On the other hand, If I read a story written by both Huffington and Vox news, (or Drudge Report and Fox News) is it fake news? Probably not. Is it biased, or told from the same point of view without bringing in different voices? Probably. Is it still fake news? According to the Huffington post list; nope, its good to go. Is it biased or misleading? Probably.

    In our analysis of what constitutes “fake news” we must be vigilant to include stories that are intentionally slanted to play to our personal biases. I appreciate Michelle’s list of journalistic questions because it works to help us filter our own personal biases.

    Reply
    • Michelle Lasley

      Hey Stu, thanks for chiming in. Your point about fact-checking with different bias is spot on. Appreciate the tip.

      Reply

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