How to identify fake news online in the age of social media

TAMPA, Fla. — There are a lot of ways to inform yourself of the news of the day. More people are getting their information online, but not everything you read is accurate.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is digging deeper to find out how to know if the information you’re taking in is from a reputable source and ways you can weed out the noise.

In 2021, there is so much information online and nowadays more people are consuming their news from online sources. Whether that be on their tablets, laptops, or cell phones, we are more connected than we’ve ever been before.

The democratization and liberty of information online have made sharing and consuming content easier than ever, but there’s one problem. There’s a lot of fake news floating around online.

“The majority of the people actually believe that they can well identify fake news,” said Helen Lee Bouygues, president of the Reboot Foundation, which tries to teach critical thinking in the age of rapidly growing technology and social media.

Lee Bouygues says the first step is having an awareness of how susceptible we are to misinformation and disinformation. She says when you look up news and information on search engines, the algorithm will usually take you to previous sites you’ve visited before.

“So, it’s efficient, but it may not necessarily give you the most accurate information depending on where you’ve been I previous sites,” Bouygues said.

She says though there may seem like there’s more fake news floating around online, there’s no statistical data to back that up, but what we are seeing is a higher quantity of fake news being shared on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“That really gives an explanation for why we have more polarization,” Bouygues added.

According to a study by the Reboot Foundation, people who heavily use social media are more susceptible to falling for fake news. One of the reasons why is because the algorithm in social media networks doesn’t know what’s real or fake.

Another reason why people fall victim to fake news is by being in an echo-chamber. An echo-chamber is an environment where a person only encounters opinions that coincide with their own, essentially reinforcing their biases and preconceived notions. This makes it harder to understand a different viewpoint.

“Only about 1% of our participants used what we deemed to be true fact-checking techniques when verifying information,” said Bouygues.

Here are five ways you can weed out the noise online to know if you’re consuming information from a reputable source.

  1. AVOID RELYING ON A SINGLE SOURCE. Always check different outlets to see if the information corroborates with each other.
  2. BE CAUTIOUS OF CLICKBAIT. Essentially headlines that seem fishy or exaggerated
  3. BEWARE OF CONTENT THAT’S DESIGNED TO PERSUADE. These usually come in the form of conspiracy theories that evoke an emotional reaction within you
  4. LOOK AT THE BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR. See what they’ve published in the past
  5. FIND OUT WHO FINANCES THE WEBSITE. Knowing that can give you insight into their political interests.

Having a reputable source of information is essential for a healthy democracy.

“It is important that we have the capacity to be able to think critically and also be armed with media literacy so that we’re not being fed what to think, but to be able to think on our own,” said Bouygues.

She says one of the best ways to combat misinformation as a society is to teach children while they’re young to be critical thinkers. She also advocates for media literacy classes in schools.

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