Connected How to identify fake news online


“It’s a hoax.”

“This is fake news.”

Those were a few of the posts of disbelief on social media to the news of George Michael’s death on Christmas Day.

Many of us are on high alert for fake news, so it’s understandable that people would dismiss the story of the legendary pop singer’s death.

In fact some of my Face-book friends refused to post anything about Michael’s death until they found a credible source to confirm the story.

After all, it was Christmas Day. How does the singer of one of my generation’s most iconic Christmas songs, “Last Christmas,” die on Christmas Day? It sure sounded like fake news.

One headline about Michael’s death reminded me of a famously fake Betty White death story.

The fake headline about the famous actor reads, “Betty White Dyes Peacefully In Her Home.”

Of course, White is still very much alive. Any good sleuth or wordsmith probably picked up on the word choice in the headline.

Did you catch it?

Naturally, there’s a big definition difference between “dyes” and “dies.”

“It’s not like I don’t trust my friends,” one Facebook friend lamented to me in a private message. “Most of [my friends] are kind of gullible and they’ll post anything without checking [the story’s] authenticity.”

When all else fails, I turn to Snopes.com, a wonderful antidote to bogus news. According to their site, Snopes “attempts to give accurate information about rumors and urban legends on a variety of topics, including war, business, events” and more.

However, news like that of Michael’s death spreads so quickly that even Snopes can’t confirm or deny authenticity.

So, beyond checking a news source and using myth-busting sites such as Snopes, online news readers are left to their own devices for uncovering the truth. Here are some additional strategies:

Check the URL. The URL, or “uniform resource locator,” is simply a Web address. I’d rather not give credence to the site for the fake Betty White story by including it in this column. But if you want to search for it, be my guest. Even though they pass themselves off as satire, these sites have only exacerbated the trust issue. If you want good satire, go to The Onion.

Quote and Experts. I often ask students to find news-related blog posts with quotes from experts. It’s kind of a fool’s errand because some bloggers often post critical reviews and rants. Then they try to pass off these rants as real news. Credible journalists seek out multiple and expert sources to add context and legitimacy to a news story.

Trust Your Gut. If you think a story is false, trust your instincts. If something sounds too good (or bad) to be true, look for a second or third trustworthy, credible site before posting a link to the story to your social media accounts.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at adamearn.com and follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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