The top five fake news stories of 2016 included a story about a woman defecating on her boss’ desk after winning the lottery and several political fake news pieces. It seems that any time you get on social media, there is a fake news story floating around.
People are growing more and more concerned about the number of fake news stories and how hard it is to tell fact from fiction. About 64% of Americans say that they feel fake news stories cause confusion, and people don’t always completely understand current issues because of fake news.
What Can You Do to Avoid Sharing Fake News?
As a writer or marketer, it is easy to follow fake news. Sometimes it is tough to tell what is real or not.
However, if you spread news that isn’t accurate, your readers won’t find anything you write to be credible. You may even be seen as part of the problem with fake news, or at a minimum people will think you aren’t careful enough to check your facts thoroughly. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to ensure you don’t participate in the spread of fake news and are an accurate and reliable source:
1. Fact Check
The obvious first step you should take is to always fact check yourself. If you are researching a topic, make sure you have two — or more — reliable sources before sharing it in your own writing/marketing materials. You can also check sites like Snopes.com to see if a report is true or false. When in doubt about a fact, dig deeper. You may even need to seek out an expert and get their take on the matter.
When you finish writing, look at the work through a reader’s eyes. Is there anything the reader might question? Do you have a couple of sources to back up what you wrote? If you have someone who can read your work over with fresh eyes, they may spot potential problem areas that need additional fact checking.
2. Avoid Fake News Sites
Some sites are known for publishing outlandish, fake news. For example, if you read an article at The Onion, you can be almost certain it is out in left field. You should also be careful about using sites that lean to one political side or the other, as the news may be accurate but only present one side of the story.
You should be able to spot a story that isn’t well balanced. If only one side of an issue seems to be represented, then you should either avoid that story or find another story that presents the other side and balance it yourself.
3. Ignore Social Media
Social media is a source of news for some people. About 40% of Americans over the age of 18 get their news via Facebook. The problem with that is they also share news, whether it is accurate or not.
When you are seeking facts for your articles and materials, stay away from social media as your source. Instead, seek out facts from scholarly articles through sites such as Google Scholar, or go to well-known news sources, such as Reuters.
4. Find Statistics to Back up Your Ideas
When you do find an idea and pull it together from various sources, find statistics to back up that idea whenever possible. While you may not be able to back up every single sentence you put out, and some are plain common sense, adding in a few details from studies that support your findings can lend more credibility to your writing.
However, you also have to be careful here to use reliable sources. For example, government sites, Pew Research and other well-known polling companies typically provide reliable information. If you are unsure whether or not the source is dubious or reliable, there are some key things you can look at. Does the study provide specifics? Does it explain how the sample was taken, what the mean values are and so on?
5. Watch Out For Too Good to Be True or Too Unbelievables
If a story sounds too good to be true or sounds unbelievable, this can be a signal that the story is fake. Use this as a signal to dig deeper and try to figure out if the information is accurate or inaccurate.
Big “always” and “never” statements may signal fake news as well. Example: “Why You Should Never Eat Steak.” You should also look for click bait type headlines. Example: “This Woman Wanted a Cat, but She Was Shocked to Discover This About Her New Pet.”
While these stories might not always be fake news, they are often exaggerated.
6. Report False News Stories
Protect other people and journalists from false news, too. Not everyone will fact check the way you do. You can do your part to stop the spread of false information on Facebook. First, click on the down arrow in the upper right corner of the post containing false news. Choose to report the post, then choose “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook.” You will then have the option to indicate you think it is a false news story.
If enough people report it as such, Facebook throws up a warning when someone clicks on the post that informs them others have flagged it as possibly being false news.
As a professional writer, you have a duty to the general public to report the facts without inserting your own bias. As a marketer, you have a responsibility to be accurate so consumers can trust what you say. Not getting sucked into a fake news cycle is the first step toward showing that professionalism.