We’ve all become a little familiar with the concept of ‘fake news’. Democrats are really into pizza and child trafficking, millions of people showed up to Trump’s inauguration, and I am the sexiest and richest person in the Southern hemisphere. One of these stories is not like the others, in that only two of them have been definitely debunked.
In this fast-paced Information Superhighway Age, it can be a little hard to keep up with all the articles, posts, comments, reddits, sub-reddits, tweets and dick pics that are just constantly being flung at you from every possible angle.
Purveyors of fake news websites capitalise on this fact, because - as a busy parent/salsa dancing instructor/baby boomer - how can you be expected to check for sources or just use your common sense when reading an obviously fabricated article about possible terrorists at your local swimming pool fundraiser?
Multiple sites like Snopes and Politifact put in the hard yards to fact-check news and statements by politicians, but it still takes something like a very public embarrassment of the POTUS and his VP before a notorious purveyor of fake news like Michael Flynn is asked to resign from government. And by then, the damage has been done.
In Australia, ABC’s Fact Check Unit is experiencing a revival of its own, given we are no strangers to the increasingly frequent stretching of the facts by our elected officials. But all this checking of facts by organisations requires time, effort, money, and ensuring that their own integrity can’t be easily called into question by someone simply yelling ‘BIASED’ in all-caps (which I’m told can really work if your audience is exclusively made up of lemmings).
Wouldn’t it be handy if everyone could just arm themselves with the knowledge they needed to separate the juicy wheat of real news from the chaff of misinformation? I’ve endeavoured here to compile a handy check-list, to ensure you know exactly how much salt to take when you read that particular article that has raised your hackles.
1. Did your nan send you the article?
While some cool old people do still exist, it’s important to realise that if your nan has just sent you an article (not a link to an article, but the whole article, copy-pasted into a text message) about climate change being a hoax because of empirical evidence that is never actually supplied in said article, chances are that it’s probably fake.
I’m sorry, but it’s time to let go of nan. Not in a metaphysical sense of course (unless that’s something she also wants; but that’s for another conversation), but definitely in a way that means you don’t get all your news from someone who was already starting to lose her grasp on reality when Netscape was still a thing.
2. Does the website have the words ‘real’ or ‘truth’ in it?
A surprising number of fake news websites use words like ‘real’ or ‘true’ to emphasise that they’re really truly not peddling horseshit. Just like how fruit drinks can’t wait to advertise the 5% ‘real’ fruit they contain, if a site has to advertise their realness to you, the only true thing about it is that it’s probably trying to hide something.
3. If Steve Bannon is ever described as a regular, normal person
Steve Bannon, once executive chair of notorious fake - and just outright horrible – "news" website Breitbart News, and current chief strategist for Donald Trump, is believed to be the brains behind a lot of the decisions coming out of the White House over the past few weeks. These include such charming policies as the Muslim travel ban, and the Mexican border wall – not to mention his unpleasant comments about women and him reportedly just wanting to watch the world burn, Joker style. Any news article that refers to Bannon as a top guy, or heck, even just an average, reasonable person should definitely be read with klaxons sounding off just above your head, because what you are reading is most likely problematic at best.
4. It’s actually just a nice compliment your friend sent you and not a news article at all
All compliments are lies and just an effort for the other person to ingratiate themselves with you so they can borrow your car to go to IKEA on the weekend but they won’t invite you along for meatballs either, and hence are never to be trusted again. Yeah I’m heaps fun to be around!
5. Your conscience just doesn’t feel right
At the end of the day, you don’t need fancy fact-checkers or political wonks to tell you what you already know, in your heart of hearts. Surely as an adult human you can tell when the media is trying to drum up a ridiculous story out of thin air, in an effort to blind you from the real story underneath, or drive you to such a heightened emotional state to the point where you’re believing the most fantastical of conspiracy theories. You know better, and you can do better. It’s time to start believing less in fake news, and more in yourself. The power is yours.