More than two billion people use the Internet, and many of them use it to get their news.
In today's world, anyone with an Internet connection and something that resembles literacy can "report" on the "news" or manufacture fake stories. Considering that, it's imperative that we read and share responsibly. Getting fooled by fake news or misreported information while a story breaks is not something to be ashamed of, since it has happened to almost everyone. It is, however, something that can be easily avoided.
Consider this the ultimate guide to never embarrassing yourself again. Gone are the days where you post a story on Facebook, only to have the first commenter tell you it came from a satirical website. No more are the crucial moments in an argument, when you cite a news story that has long since been debunked. It's time to never be fooled by a well-executed photoshop again.
Here are five easy steps to make sure you are getting the whole truth, and nothing but the truth:
Step 1: Look into the source you're getting the news from.
This is probably the most important thing to do, right off the bat. If I see a story that is too insane to sound real, it probably isn't. My first step is typically googling the name of the website and the word "satire," just to see if it has been classified somewhere as a fake news site. Here is a short list of some very popular websites and columns whose satirical content is often mistaken for absolute fact:
Step 2: Find a second, reliable source
If two places are reporting the story with matching facts, your story has passed the first step of validation. That's as long as they are two reliable sources. Since every news outlet — even the most trusted like CNN or ABC — has some bias, you always have to proceed with caution. So what's a reliable source? Well, it's tough to say. Every news outlet makes mistakes, and every news outlet has an audience that their work is catered to. But more than political bias, you need to watch out for websites that simply have no credibility. Be careful out there.
Step 3: Check the facts.
If a reliable source is crediting an unreliable source about an unbelievable-sounding story, you should take it with a grain of salt. Frequently, a story will make some erroneous claim that is backed by facts that are less than credible or were originally published in another fake news story. Fortunately, there are some great resources out there for you: Snopes, Factcheck.org and Politifact all make a living off of debunking eyebrow-raising, often erroneous claims, and then telling us how these "facts" came to be.
Step 4: Spotting Photoshop
Let's just be clear: Photoshopped images are incredibly hard to detect. That's one reason why you should never trust a story built entirely around a photograph. Poynter had an article about detecting photos that have been altered, but the basics are pretty helpful: Look for odd coloring in the background, shadows and reflections that don't match the images, or the simple fact a photograph is low quality (like all the blurry "pictures of Bigfoot" you've probably seen).
Another common photo error is sharing an unaltered photo with incorrect context, like this photo that went viral last year:
A good tool to find a photograph's origin is reverse google image search.
Step 5: Share responsibly.
If you haven't done the research on a story, and are too busy or lazy to do it yourself, you want to share it anyway: Do it with a disclaimer. My advice would be to ask the people you share it with for more context, feedback, or simply to see if anyone knows whether it is a falsified report or not. The worst thing you can do is share a fake news story with no comment or context and perpetuate a cycle of non-truths because people rarely take the time to investigate themselves.
Final step: share this article!
If you really want the Internet to be a more trustworthy place, a good spot to start is by sharing this article. Let your friends, family and Internet friends know the tricks to spotting fake or poorly reported news, and that way we can live in a world filled with more truth!