During the coronavirus pandemic, many people have relied on news to stay connected to the world as they socially distance themselves. Unfortunately, not all news sources are reliable and it’s important to learn how to evaluate the credibility of various outlets. The idea of “fake news” has gained a lot of attention during the past few years, but the reality is that unreliable news sources have been around for centuries.
In the current political climate, however, it is more important than ever before to understand what constitutes fake news and which sources are trustworthy—especially on the internet. In addition, keep in mind that a story may not be technically false, but it may still be misleading if the writer left out important details or context. It’s important to think critically about all news stories. Read on for some tips to help you tell if an article is credible or not.
1. Look at multiple sources.
Any sort of surprising or controversial news will be covered by a number of different news sources across different media. If a story is overlooked by other major outlets, you should approach it with more skepticism and scrutiny. Whenever possible, it is wise to check the details of a story across several sources to make sure that the basic facts line up.
Ideally, you’d get your news from a variety of sources with different political stances to get a better idea of what’s fact, what’s elaboration, and what is simply conjecture. Noticing how different sources approach the same story can help you boost your critical thinking skills.
2. Investigate the author.
Most people don’t give much attention to the author of a particular piece of news. However, doing a quick search on the author can reveal their affiliations and potential biases and help you approach the article with more scrutiny. The majority of established news outlets rely on legitimate experts and experienced reporters to write their articles, so it’s often easy to learn about the author’s background and verify their credentials and experience. If a news article does not have an attributed author, that fact alone should raise some red flags, especially if the news cannot be verified through other sources or the details don’t match those in other articles.
3. Identify personal biases.
Virtually no one reads the news from an impartial point of view and attempting to do so is a waste of energy. A better approach is to take the time to identify your personal biases and be aware of them when reading the news. Your personal biases come from your culture, socioeconomic background, gender, life experiences, and other facets of your identity. All of them color the way you perceive a story—and this is true for everyone.
Recognizing how these biases can affect your judgment is a critical part of approaching news from a rational point of view. You may be partial to sources with similar biases, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be critical of these outlets.
4. Read beyond the headline.
Media outlets depend on readership to drive revenue. As a result, the headlines for articles are often controversial, provocative, and meant to attract readers. Sometimes the article that follows is equally provocative, but not always. A controversial headline may not represent the article accurately—the headline may be exaggerated to attract potential readers. Even articles with rather simple and noncontroversial content may have edgy titles—your classic clickbait.
When you see a controversial headline, try to remember that news outlets often have an incentive to make you feel strong emotions so that you click on the title. Always read the entire article before you begin discussing the content or telling other people about it. If you react based on a headline alone, you could end up spreading fake news.
5. Check the date of the article.
As you search for news, you may run across articles that are reappearing long after their initial publication date. These articles may reappear because they relate to a recent story. It can be easy to misconstrue an older article as something recent, so it is important to double-check the date on each story.
Especially when looking at articles on social media, it is important to search for the date it was published, which could be different than the date it was posted on social media. Most news articles have the original date of publication somewhere in the content, often at the very beginning or end. Pay attention and don’t be misled by out-of-date information.
6. Distinguish between news and opinion.
In a world that is dominated by social media, distinguishing between opinion and news has become difficult. Often, people report news and then comment on it. Readers should always be critical about what is based in fact and what comes from the thoughts of the author. Print sources often clearly distinguish between news and opinion, with the latter being located in the editorial section, but television, radio, and online content can be more ambiguous about the difference. Free speech means that extremely exaggerated and even false information can still be broadcast, so it is important to check facts whenever you have doubts about anything. Several fact-checking websites exist, including Snopes, FactCheck, and PolitiFact.