Spotting fake news

NECIR Executive Director Burt Glass talks to students about spotting fake news.

Do you know how to spot fake news?

In an effort to answer this question, Cait Levin, the director of research and media at Beaver Country Day School, held a Media Literacy Day for the students there. Levin invited NECIR’s Executive Director Burt Glass and WGBH’s Investigative Reporting Editor Paul Singer to talk to the students about fake news.

“Our students consume a great deal of news when doing their history and research class assignments,” said Levin. “We find that often times they just look at the first page of Google searches, without any critical thinking or judgment.”  

Beaver Country Day School students are not the only ones falling into fake news traps. Many high school students are culprits of believing the first piece of news they read. The first step to avoiding fake news and finding credible news sources is educating oneself.

Spot the flags for fake news 

Citing the news-checking website PolitiFact, Glass explained that there are five questions to ask when looking through a news story: Does it have a byline? Can we find a photo credit? Are the sources clear enough? Does the story appear on other news reports? Does it have a date? If the answer to one of these questions is “no,” the story is most likely fake news. You should always use the five rules to determine if they’re reading an authentic news piece.  

Remain skeptical 

High school students rely on digital news apps, such as Apple News and Google News, but the news is presented and ordered by a robot algorithm as opposed to a human professional. What news we see online is often directly related to how many times people are clicking or sharing. The more clicks the higher the story is pushed up in searches, apps and web pages. But this can distort the news you see, hiding less “clickable” but more substantive or accurate stories. It also can distort the editorial choices the reporters and editors make as they face pressure to write for clicks – and sell advertising. 

Vary your media diet 

When it comes to consuming media, Glass has some advice. “You don’t want to just eat biscuits every day. You would like to have salad, protein, and some other delicious, nutritious food,” said Glass. “Similarly, it’s healthier to add variety to your media diet if you pursue the truth.” People tend to pay attention to news in which they share similar attitudes and opinions.  

For instance, if you are a Democrat, you are most likely to listen to MSNBC rather than Fox News and vice versa if you are a Republican. Reading the same kind of news limits comprehension and deep understanding of the facts. Having a varied media diet can give you access to multiple information and different perspectives, which will help you make correct judgments in the era of fake news.