How do you know that the news you’re consuming is accurate?
“Fake news” is a term that has taken off in recent years, most infamously during the 2016 US presidential election. We wrote about the topic earlier this year, producing a "citizen's guide" on how to spot fake news online. Biased news and sensationalism disguised as journalism has been around for a long time, but has been amplified through the internet and social media. There's so much information today that it's hard to decipher what's real and what's FUD. It’s become clear that the news we used to rely on — news that was supposed to be fact-based and impartial — is oftentimes no longer reliable.
But the news is still important. A responsible citizen keeps up on what’s going on, both here and abroad. But when there are so many “news” sources, how do you know which ones are legitimate — and which ones to avoid?
Here are five tips for avoiding actual fake news and ensuring that the information you’re consuming is fact-based, accurate, and informative.
One of the reasons we’re in this predicament is that the shift from analog to digital left many traditional news outlets — outlets that had strict standards and ethics for publication — unable to make money. As people came to expect the news for free, our institutions started to crumble.
But these days, most major news outlets have subscription options. So pick a couple that you like and shell out for a subscription. You’re not only ensuring that you’re getting actual news, but also helping bolster the institution of the independent press. (You know, that cornerstone of democracy.)
Another option that technology has given us is paying journalists directly. As an increasing number of traditional news outlets shutter their doors or reduce the amount that they pay, some journalists are choosing to strike out and do their work independently. Sites like Patreon let readers pay journalists directly, rather than paying the news outlet. You can also follow journalists on social media in order to figure out how and if there are ways to support their work.
While the name would suggest otherwise, it became very clear in the 2016 election — and since — that Facebook’s News Feed isn’t a reliable source of news. If you’re going to interact with News Feed, you have to play the role of journalist yourself by verifying everything you read before you share or believe it.
Another way to make sure you’re getting real news is to read a variety of sources. See what different outlets are saying about the same issue. At this point, it’s hard to argue that even the oldest news sources are actually impartial, but by reading multiple sources, you can figure out what’s fact and what’s bias.
Many free “news” sites rely on contributors, not a dedicated staff of journalists. Those people are underpaid, overworked, and aren’t held to the strict ethical standards of traditional journalists. While it’s fine to continue reading them, keep that in mind as you’re consuming news. And remember: You can likely verify any story that seems suspect yourself. That’s the beauty of the internet.
The internet has made it possible for everyone to be a publisher. And while that’s brought us a lot of amazing things, it’s also created an environment where fake news is a real and consistent problem. But you, as a critical, intelligent human being, have the power to parse it out. Use it.
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