Surely all news is real news? Well, not anymore. A whole new category has been introduced somewhere in the middle of the ‘facts’ and ‘opinions’ we all learnt the difference between in primary school, and its name is ‘fake news’.
‘Fake news’ can be anything from poorly-researched articles to news websites that are created with the intent of fooling their readers into believing made up stories: like an April Fool’s prank gone rogue.
In 2016 the Oxford Dictionary decided that ‘post-truth’ was the word of the year.
We’re apparently living in an era of ‘post-truth politics’, a phenomenon where politicians and their speech writers are permitted and even encouraged to twist facts, exaggerate statistics, or outright make things up. It’s nothing new, but it’s happening now more than ever.
But while there’s nothing dangerous about a hooking Reductress headline and everyone knows to take The Onion with a few pinches of salt, the ‘fake news’ tagline is quickly becoming an excuse to slander every legitimate news outlet that calls you out or hurts your feelings. Looking at you, Trump.
Here is a helpful guide to fake news and real news, and how to spot the difference:
- After becoming a little suspicious of the hashed up website, people discovered that The Denver Guardian, the newspaper that originally wrote about the death of an FBI agent mentioned in Hillary Clinton’s email leaks, actually doesn’t exist, and its creator had completely made up the story.
- Last summer the British public were in mourning: first we lost Harambe, then our right to name a ship Boaty McBoatface. The fake ‘Boston Leader’ knew that the best way to cheer us up was to cram as many memes as possible into a single headline, and told us that a baby gorilla Jinhua zoo was about to be christened Harambe McHarambeface. Sadly untrue.
- Tabloid papers under pressure to meet deadlines and reel readers in with shocking headlines often commit fake news faux pas. With the amount of time they must spend writing apologies, you have to wonder if it’s worth making the news up in the first place.
- 1954’s A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers was published in 400 American newspapers told readers that the scientists were wrong: there was no link between cigarettes and lung cancer.
HOW TO SPOT IT
- Does the paper have any reason to be or history of being biased, politically or against a certain group of people?
- Does the article make you feel particularly excited, scared, or angry? Fake news articles are often targeted at making readers particularly emotional, so that they’re more likely to share them with friends or to follow the writer’s agenda.
- Does the site have spelling mistakes, a strange contact address or URL, or do its upload dates only span a short amount of time?
- Does the story seem too good to be true?
- Do the facts have sources, links or explanation? Fake journalists make sweeping statements without offering proof that what they’re saying is true.
- Has it been reported by other papers? A real, exciting news story is likely to spread quickly.
The best way to avoid getting caught out believing or sharing fake news is to be cautious. Check anything you’re unsure of using reputable sources and bear in mind that most journalists are people getting paid to meet deadlines and, like everyone else, (occasionally) make mistakes.