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Kirsten Ballard: The three S’s of real news

Kirsten Ballard • Updated Mar 29, 2017 at 4:15 PM

Do you know a chronic fake news perpetuator? Mine is my cousin on Facebook. He spreads fake news like it’s his job. He reacts to each sensational headline with the correct amount of outrage. I don’t think it’s intentional. I think he sees someone else sharing these, he believes them to be true, and he clicks share. It is not a problem of malice; it is a problem of media literacy.

So we have developed the three S’s so you can make sure you are not a fake news perpetuator. All great lessons come in threes: “Stop, drop and roll,” “Stop, look and listen.” Now we introduce, “Stop, search and subscribe.”

It can be confusing, with so much news aggregated in your social media channels, each source becoming more sensational to vie for your attention.

Let’s practice the three S’s with a scenario. You’re on Facebook and your friend shared an article you just can’t believe.  “What is the world coming to?” you ask yourself, shaking your head as your mouse hovers over the share button.

Stop!

A heavy dose of suspicion is necessary in these moments before you share. Is this sensational headline click-bait or fake? Sometimes this is an easy test, based solely on the headline available.

“You won’t believe what IKEA has in stores this spring” makes you want to click, and read. That’s click-bait. Publications write these headlines to try to increase traffic and views. The headline just teases and entices you.

Fake news usually tells you everything you need to know from the headline. “Pope endorses Donald Trump.” You don’t need to click it; you know the topic sentence right there in the headline. So now we’re suspicious. If the headline is not being sensational just to get you to click on it, it’s time to move to step two.

Search

Put on your detective hat and open a new tab for some sleuthing. There are a few key spots to look when quickly deciding if something is fake news. Identify the publication, date published and the author.

First, have you heard of this publication before? Ever? Is the URL wehatehillary.com? If you are confused about how reputable a site is, either Google it or use this handy doc explaining the spectrum of fake news.

If you still aren’t sure about the reliability, next look at the date. The date will tell you how relevant this information is. Is it three years old? Don’t share old news. It’s OK to share a newer story that cites older information, as long as it also accounts for any changes that may have occurred since then.   Just because information is old doesn’t mean it’s wrong (We don’t need a new study on the health effects of smoking to know that it’s bad for you). But again, consider the source and after reading beyond the headline, if the article seems self-serving, don’t share.

Next, the author. A quick Google search will tell you what else this person does. Were they on a Pulitzer-winning team last year? Do they only write about hunting for Bigfoot? Use some news judgment here.

Subscribe

The easiest way to become media literate is by subscribing to trustworthy, quality journalism. That means funding it and reading it.

The media is not the ultimate truth, it is a collective truth, aggregated across different publications and biases. If you hear a story on the radio, on the nightly news, on A1 in your driveway and trending on Twitter, there is veracity to the claim. The best solution to fake news is trusted journalism and an informed and engaged audience.

Kirsten Ballard is the social media and blog editor at the News Media Alliance.

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