The World Wide Web of Information: Ways to Tell Real from Fake
Is there a question on your mind that is plaguing you at the moment? Something from your homework perhaps? Chances are, you do not have to look far for the answer or make a lot of effort, for that matter. Simply bring out your device, go online, and type your query in the search bar, and you will find numerous answers to your question. This information age is not called as such for nothing, after all.
However, how would you know what you are reading is actually factual or not? It is one thing when some websites claim that a certain celebrity looks awful without makeup or that using pop to clean toilets is 100x more effective than using toilet cleaner—these are trivial matters—but it is another thing to post a story that can potentially be damaging or harmful to the people mentioned in the article. Take for example, the recent news story that went viral of a pizzeria owner in Washington who was allegedly involved in unspeakable criminal activities. A man who read that story wanted to take matters in his own hands and opened fire on the pizzeria. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but things could have really gone downhill. After law enforcement intervened, the news story was discovered to be fake.
This is just an example of the negative effects of falsified information on the Net. Whether you are doing something for school or simply intending to expand your knowledge, it pays to be discernible on what you are reading. Below are effective ways to tell the real ones from the fake ones.
Check the URL.
Some websites that thrive on fake stories have the audacity to pass themselves off as legitimate by having a URL that has a misspelling or a dubious extension, like washingtonpst.com or nationalpost.or. At first glance, you won’t find anything wrong with those URLs, but if you look closely, you will notice the errors. A website URL is extremely important to companies as it is part of their brand, so if you notice a wrong spelling or an unusual extension on the URLs, then something is definitely amiss.
Be wary of sensationalized titles.
In journalism, it is important to have an attention-grabbing title to hook the reader. However, trusted and well-established websites, especially news websites like the Globe and Mail or the New York Times, steer clear of sensationalized headlines that make them sound like the tabloids. As such, if you spot an article with a headline that is practically screaming at you so you can pay attention (especially if it is in all caps), chances are, you are reading an article that’s been fabricated.
The author is nonexistent.
A story that does not need a famous author for it to be credible. However, trustworthy websites have their pool of equally trustworthy writers, and as such, you can definitely find out more about any author through the links to the social media provided within the article or at least the About Me page (some authors do like to keep their social media profiles private). If there is no information about the author whatsoever, it is likely the author is nonexistent at all, which is a read flag.
Compare the information from reputable websites.
These days it is so easy to come across articles on interesting subjects without you actually making an effort to find them. For instance, your best friend might share a link about energy drinks having health risks on her Facebook page, and you can easily click on that to read the whole article. Sometimes, you might be searching for something else and there pops out an article that catches your interest. When information is this accessible, the more you should be cautious of where they are coming from. So if you laugh at that article about energy drinks being unhealthy, you can do a fact-check yourself by navigating the pages of well-known websites like Web MD or MSN Health. This way, you are selective about what you are reading.
Check for links to original sources.
Ever noticed how print and broadcast journalists make an effort to get an interview for a quote or sound bite to accompany a news story to validate what is being reported? It is the same case with websites too. Reputable websites always cite their reliable sources because no one can churn out information out of the blue—unless the information has been invented. As such, when you read a story, take the time to go through the links to the original sources and read through them.
We are particular when buying branded items and we avoid knock-offs like the plague. We should be the same way when it comes to the information we read online. Just follow the suggestions above, and you will find yourself more knowledgeable than ever.