If you’ve ever gotten your news from Twitter, a random headline or a website that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2009, it’s probably not reliable.
And yet, despite so much attention revolving around “fake news” these days, we’re still getting tricked, hoodwinked, even bamboozled by unreliable sources—all because of our own ignorance.
The main culprit for this epidemic is—surprise, surprise—social media. Recently, some have claimed that the bushfires engulfing Australia are the product of everything from arson to eco-terrorism rather than climate change. Others have innocently spread pictures and videos from the wildfires in an effort to spread awareness – except many of them are months old and have nothing to do with the current disaster, according to a video by the Washington Post. The same happened when news of the Amazon rainforest burning blew up.
Confusion—and memes—of a similar ilk also came up when tensions escalated between the U.S. and Iran, especiallly after the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. The morning after the news erupted on Twitter, users quivered in fear at the thought of getting drafted to the Middle East, even though the draft ended in 1973 after the close of the Vietnam War.
And sure, it’s funny to see people our age freak out over something that hasn’t existed for over four decades. But it’s also sad that many of us can’t tell the difference between a news article and something that came straight from The Onion.
So in case you’re still playing catch-up, let’s get some things out of the way: Momo isn’t real, Mike Pence isn’t president, Chris Pratt isn’t running a sex ring and there is no World War III.
In all seriousness, it’s easy to fall for misinformation online. It’s happened to all of us at one point or another. But it’s also easy to keep our knowledge of current events in check every once in a while.
Setting aside any personal biases, diversifying our sources and distinguishing between journalism and other forms of information are all good ways of developing news literacy.
Rather than sticking solely to the likes of Fox News or MSNBC—which are known to sway to one side—get a subscription to the New York Times (it’s free if you’re an FIU student) or other well-regarded publications like the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. Know what’s a credible source and what isn’t. If you first read it in a tweet or, God forbid, Reddit, you might want to use Google to fact check. It’s free.
And then there’s fake news. If the story sounds outlandish and you don’t recognize the source, it’s probably a good idea to click around and research the site. Read beyond headlines, which are often misleading. Check the time of publication and research the author. These are all good habits to maintain when it comes to distinguishing facts from fiction.
Despite what old men in the White House say about the media, there are real news sources out there that you can rely on—sources that aren’t your high school acquaintances or random people yelling on YouTube. The trick is finding them and educating yourself on what’s real and what’s not.
Featured image by filipe ferreira on Flickr.