While scrolling through her social media, Jamie stops in her tracks when she reads a headline that her company’s biggest rival is about to acquire them. She quickly posts a response, shares the story with her contacts, and emails it to her team so they can discuss it later. But then Jamie has a troubling thought. What if the story wasn’t true? What if she had just shared a “fake news” story? After all, she never checked the source of the story. If she has fallen victim to a fake news story and contributed to the rumor mill herself, how will her peers ever trust her again? Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to avoid making the same mistake as Jamie. This article will explore how you can separate fake news from the truth.
What is Fake News?
In the most basic sense, there are two types of fake news:
- Stories that aren’t true. These are entirely invented stories designed to make people believe something false, buy a certain product, or visit a certain website.
- Stories with some truth, but aren’t 100% accurate. For example, a journalist quotes only a portion of what a politician says, giving a false impression of what the politician actually said. Again, this can be deliberate, to convince readers of a certain viewpoint, or it can be the result of an innocent mistake. Either way, it quickly attracts an audience and can become entrenched as an “urban myth.”
To complicate matters even more, tehre are also people who claim that factually accruate stories are fake news, just because they don’t agree with them or find them uncomfortable.
Where Does Fake News Come From?
Fake news is nothing new. However, what is new is the ease at which the masses can share information – both true and false – on a massive scale.
Social media provides anyone with the means to publish their thoughts or share stories with the world. The problem is that most people fail to check the source of the material they find online before they share it with their connections. This can quickly lead to fake news spreading quickly or even “going viral.”
At the same time, it’s become harder to identify the original source of news stories. This makes it difficult to assess the accuracy of each story one encounters.
This has led to a flood of fake news. In fact, one study found that more than 25% of Americans visited a fake news website in a six-week period during the 2016 US Presidential election.
However, not all fake news stories are found online. Co-workers who gossip by the water cooler or while browsing print publications that fail to check their facts are also guilty of spreading misinformation, even if in done so inadvertently.
The Impact In the Workplace
Research shows that 59% of people are concerned with the impact of fake news in the workplace.
For instance, some people might start to believe that they no longer need evidence to support their arguments. Others start to mistrust information altogether. Others stop listening to industry reports and disengage from valid workplace communication, which, in turn, slows their professional growth and development. Fake news can ultimately damage an organization’s learning culture.
Fake news can also affect behavior. It encourages people to invent excuses, dismiss others’ ideas, exaggerate the truth, and disseminate rumors. This can create divided and anxious workplaces where people are cynical and unsure of who to trust.
Your peers may even begin to lose trust in you if they believe that authority figures have lied to them, or that the information with which they are working is suspect. This can hinder people’s curiosity, enthusiasm, and ambition that they need to collaborate and to succeed.
Misinformation and fake news can also harm your business. Invented reviews of your products or inaccurate financial updates, for instance, can do some serious reputational damage.
6 Ways to Spot Fake News
Differentiating fact from fiction can seem daunting at times. However, getting to the truth is always worth the effort – even if it’s not what you want to hear. Use these six steps to weed out the truth from the lies:
1.) Develop a Critical Mindset
One of the primary reasons why fake news is such a big issue is that it is often quite believable. Much fake news is also designed to create “shock value,” or a strong instinctive reaction such as fear or anger.
This means that it is essential that you keep your emotional response to such stories in check. Instead, you should approach what you see and hear rationally and critically.
Ask yourself, “what is the purpose of this story? Is it to persuade me of a certain viewpoint? Is it selling me a particular product? Or is it trying to get me to click through to another website? Am I being triggered?”
2.) Check the Source
If you come across a story from a source you’ve never heard of before, it’s time to do some digging!
Check the website for the page you’re reading. Spelling errors in company names, or strange sounding extensions such as “.infonet” and “.offer,” rather than “.com” or “.co.uk.” make mean that the source is suspect.
If the author or publisher doesn’t ring a bell, stop to consider their reputation and professional experience. Are they known for their expertise on the matter? Or do they tend to exaggerate?
Be mindful that people who spread fake news and “alternative facts” sometimes create web pages, newspaper mockups, or doctored images that look official, but aren’t. So, if you come across a suspicious post that looks like it from the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, check the WHO website to verify that it’s legitimate.
Remember, even if your best friend sent you the story, this does not mean that it’s published by a legitimate authority. Odds are they likely didn’t follow these steps before forwarding the article themselves.
3.) See Who Else is Reporting the Same Story
Have other news outlets picked up the same story? What do they say about it?
Avoid jumping to the conclusion that all mainstream media (MSM) output is fake. This can be as unwise as following every rumor or conspiracy theory.
Professional global news agencies, such as Reuters, CNN, and BBC have extensive editorial guidelines and well-trained reporters, which make them an excellent starting point for any verification needs. However, everyone is biased to some degree and anyone can make a mistake, so make sure you’re always checking your sources.
4.) Examine the Evidence
A credible new story will be filled with plenty of facts – quotes from experts, survey data, and official statistics. Detailed, consistent, and corroborated eye-witness accounts from people on the scene are also tell-tale trademarks of valid stories. If these types of evidence are missing – question it!
Does the evidence prove that something happened without question? Or has the author selected and/or manipulated the “facts” to back up a particular viewpoint?
5.) Don’t Take Images at Face Value
There is some powerful image editing software out there today. This software makes it simple for people to create reimagined/fake images that look extremely real. In fact, research shows that only half of the general population can decipher which image is real and which image is fake when viewed side-by-side. Thankfully, there are some warning signs you can look out for, such as odd shadows on the image or jagged edges around figures in the foreground.
Images can also be 100% accurate, yet used in the wrong context. For instance, photos of litter covering a beach could be from a different beach 10 years ago instead of the recent alleged event.
You can use tools such as Google’s Reverse Image Search to check where an image originated and whether it has been altered.
6.) Check That It “Sounds Right”
Finally, you have to rely on your common sense and gut. Remember, fake news is designed to feed into your biases, hopes, and/or fears. For example, it’s unlikely that your favorite designer brand is giving away a million free pairs of jeans to people who visit their retail locations. On the same note, just because one of your peers believes that two married co-workers are having an affair doesn’t mean that it’s true.