If President Donald Trump had a parrot, two of its favorite words would probably be “fake news.” Since he took office in 2016, he’s tweeted about “fake news” close to 1,000 times—and that’s just from his personal account.
Now that Trump is on his way out of office, let’s throw out “fake news,” too.
QAnon conspiracy theories, which one third of Americans are open to, are just one recent example of why we need media literacy now more than ever. Without falling down a rabbit hole, these unfounded theories allege that the government and other elites are behind a large child trafficking and abuse scheme. So-called fake news isn’t news at all, and elevating these falsehoods and beliefs puts them perilously on par with the truth, which threatens democracy.
Not to sound too much like Smokey the Bear on who can prevent forest fires, but media literate people are the first step to stopping the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Each and every person should know how to suss out a well-reported, well-sourced, “real” news article.
With a little help from the News Literacy Project, here are seven tips to consider before you hit share or retweet:
Check who the source is.
When it comes down to the facts, it matters who you’re getting them. Check the source, and look where they land on this map created by Ad Fontes Media. The organization aims to make news media better, and they do that in part by evaluating media bias. Where news media organizations fall on the map reflects what they may want you to believe. Take that into consideration, and also use the map to reflect on the news you already consume. Where does the news you most often consume come from? Use that information to consider how much credibility you should give to other outlets.
Check who your sources’ sources are.
Have you seen all those pretty blue links littered throughout stories? Noticed any “according to” or “she said/he said”? Those are all signals pointing out how the author or news organization knows what they know. An article’s integrity hinges on the validity of those sources. So, if you see a source that ends in .gov or .org, that’s a good start. Also, check out the “she said/he said” and take note of their titles.
Take note of the date of the story and the photos.
Sometimes history repeats itself, so check that the story you’re reading is recent. Also, in the case of breaking news, a few hours can make all the difference, so be sure to select the freshest content.
The pictures and videos packaged with stories aren’t always shot specifically for that story. It’s important to check their dates and captions, like during protests in June when videos of fires in Minneapolis were repeatedly used by Fox News even on days when protests remained peaceful.
See if other organizations are reporting the same thing.
If multiple media outlets are reporting on the story, you can see for yourself how the facts and the framing match up.
This would be a good opportunity to check out this media bias chart. You might find it eye-opening to see the differences in stories about the same topic as they’re written by different organizations.
Turn the claim into a question and Google it!
If you’re still unsure of an article’s validity or want to learn more for yourself, turn the claim made into a question and search it online.
Ask yourself—what’s the point of this?
Different pieces have different purposes. News is meant to inform, but opinions are meant to persuade. Which are you reading? Consider the author’s purpose, and don’t forget to check the labels on the page. News sites and newspapers should have news and opinion sections clearly marked.
Scroll through the comments.
Before you hit share, check out what other people are saying on social media. You never know when some real expert (or media literate hero) may have dropped a fact check in the comments debunking a post’s claim. Misinformation and disinformation can spread quickly and widely on popular platforms, so extra scrutiny is necessary. Commenters may share concerns that you should consider researching.
Seven steps, and you won’t look like a “fake news” fool? Sounds like a good deal.