Justin Blowers

Let’s talk about the elephant in the industry and that’s fake news.

We recently had a stint with that in the community where a completely false article about the coronavirus started circulating. The post claimed to be from CNN, yet the link did not have CNN anywhere in its URL. That should have been a red flag.

CNN is a world-recognized news organization, no matter what your personal feelings about them are, they are going to have their own name in a URL to one of their stories.

This is fake news. It falls under this because the story is entirely false. It’s made up. Just like the Hillary Clinton story about the ballots in the warehouse. It was 100% false.

Misleading news is when some or even all the facts of the story are correct, but they are presented in a misleading or false way.

Honestly, a lot of political bias will fall under this category and is what a lot of people are currently calling “fake news.”

There’s also satirical and parody websites, which are naturally completely made up but unlike actual “fake news” they’re not trying to push an agenda. It’s just to be funny.

The Onion, Duffel Blog, The Hard Times, Clickhole, National Report and many other sites are examples of this. Almost every single one of these sites says that it’s a satirical website at the bottom of the story.

So, how do you protect yourself from all of these? The answer is a little bit of common sense and research.

First, don’t panic and share things. Don’t look at a headline and immediately share it because it gets an emotional reaction from you. That reaction can be anger, panic, pride, etc.

This is how things go viral and how fake things often go viral. Please don’t do this, you’re only making it worse for pretty much everyone except the person getting ad revenue off the clicks.

Second, look at the link. Now once you see an article, look at its link. Does the the URL of the link look shady? If it’s a credible news organization, look for the name of the organization in the link.

Also, look for any misspellings. I can promise you that something from “cn.com” is not the same as “cnn.com.”

Third, read it. Look, I’m going to level with you. I understand a whole bunch of people will never actually read what I write and just share it for the headline. However, don’t be that person.

If you’re past the first steps, actually read it. If it’s a satire website, you’ll figure that out. If it’s misleading, you have a chance to realize it this way if the misleading author is bad at their job.

Fourth is research. Young people are given a hard time for always being on their phone, but this is a time where having the entire database of the world at your fingertips is helpful.

You can take many options here. There are entire websites like Snopes devoted to keeping up with and figuring out if articles are fake. Even websites like Politico and National Public Radio have fact-checking divisions.

However, if you don’t trust those, you have the power to research it yourself. The Freedom of Information Act applies to citizens, not just journalists. A lot of the information politicians and people use is readily available to citizens.

Center for Disease Control statistics are available to you, Census information is available, FBI statistics and a whole myriad of other sources are available to you at your fingertips if you just look.

However, let’s say you don’t want to do that much work. You can always just Google the headline. If it’s a big enough story and legitimate, other news sources will have it. You can cross reference it with other articles about it to figure out what’s going on.

Cross referencing different sources is also a great way to parse through the partisan politics. Go to a conservative news source and a liberal one and read the same story. The stuff that’s consistent between the two has the highest chance of being 100 percent correct.

So what do you do now? Well, once all this is done and you’ve figured out if it’s a legitimate article or not, you can share it.

While this is work, it’s the only way you and we as a society can fight against fake news.

NPR released a poll that said 35 percent of those polled felt misinformation was the biggest threat to the next election.

Proper research is how you combat it.

So please, next time you see something that really gets you up in arms in some kind of way like this fake coronavirus article, don’t immediately share it.

Check the facts.

Justin Blowers is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are his own and not the opinion of the paper. He can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at sjblowers@southeastsun.com.

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