Combating Fake News: 4 Strategies to Separate Fact from Fiction

AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR NAVIGATING THE POST-TRUTH ERA

This fake-media toolkit was originally published by Stand Up Republic, and has been reprinted by permission. 

The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the way we produce and consume news. Technology has brought about unmistakable progress on many fronts, but it has also introduced new opportunities for exploitation and attack.

It’s fair to say that disinformation has long challenged our ability to discern truth in media. But the 2016 presidential election exposed to the public a new strain of the virus, and it’s one that requires increased vigilance to remedy.

Today’s abundance of “news” invites us to indulge our inherent prejudices on demand, even when facts disprove our feelings. Anonymous social media profiles (including bots) enable the wildest ideas to spread across information networks, even appearing on the @POTUS account at times.

Fake news stories are sometimes funny. They are often benign. But they can also have serious and terrible consequences.

As our society adapts to this new landscape — one the President aggravates by labeling any media that challenges him as “the enemy” or “fake news” — foreign adversaries look to spread their own propaganda. Their disinformation campaigns exploit our free and open media, sowing chaos and eroding democracy in the process.

When consuming media from any source, and in particular online, one must navigate our digital world carefully. Know what to look for, and help your family and friends avoid spreading misinformation too.

Here are four strategies to help you identify fake news.

1. EXAMINE THE SOURCE

First, look at the URL: have you ever heard of breakingnews365.net before? If you haven’t, be wary of the site’s contents.

The Internet’s open and accessible nature means virtually anyone can publish an official-looking website. Someone with basic web skills can have a site up and running in a matter of minutes, with almost no cost.

The producers of fake news have political and financial motives. During the 2016 presidential race, for example, the Denver Guardian — an entirely fake news site — generated between $10,000 and $30,000 a month in ad revenue.

Of course, sites that mix real journalism with distorted (or blatantly false) information blur the line between fact and fiction. Here’s a list of the worst offenders.

2. CHECK YOUR SHOCK LEVEL

Did the article you just read shock you because it’s inconsistent with known facts? Did it seem designed to play on your emotions? If a claim or story seems outrageous, don’t take it at face value. It’s possibly twisted to confirm your worst fears and suspicions, or simply made up altogether.

Why do so many people fall for this trap? Because fake news purveyors — including advertisers — seek clicks and shares of their content, and they know appealing to raw emotion elicits a greater response in our brains.

Bottom line: take a moment to analyze what you just read and ask yourself if it seems too “out there” to be true. If the answer is yes, proceed with caution before internalizing, clicking or sharing.

3. CONSULT GOOGLE (or maybe Bing?)

When something happens, news organizations race to publish. Every bureau chief wants to be the first to post or to secure the next exclusive. So when important national events happen, multiple sources cover it.

Different outlets may, of course, offer their particular analysis of an issue. But at the end of the day, the root facts of an issue — its essential truth — will shine through.

As a rule of thumb, check to see if other outlets are talking about a given subject. If at least three different, well-known publications have reported on the same topic, there’s a good chance its core facts are legitimate.

Example: Fox News, MSNBC and the New York Times each published an article about President Trump and Steve Bannon around August 15, 2017. While each source frames the story differently, it’s probably safe to conclude that this is real news.

4. COMPENSATE FOR MEDIA BIAS

It’s true — media outlets on both sides of the aisle present the news with bias. But, as with Tip #3, we can overcome this by challenging opposing viewpoints.

Where do you gather your news, generally speaking? If it’s largely through TV, consider reading a newspaper. If you typically read Fox News articles online, consider watching CNN.

Too often, we choose to ignore ideas that compete with our preconceived notions. By varying our sources and consuming those with which we disagree, we are more likely to get to the truth than if we only participate in the partisan echo chamber that too often reaffirms false narratives.

 

This link should be bookmarked for future reference!

Megyn Kelly Loses Gala-Hosting Gig After Alex Jones Interview

Megyn Kelly’s interview with the controversial Alex Jones – of conspiracy-floating InfoWars fame – hasn’t even aired, but the NBC News star is already feeling the heat. The Sandy Hook Foundation, begun by families impacted by the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, has removed Kelly as host of their annual Promise Champions Gala, which is taking place on Wednesday night in Washington, DC.

Jones has gone on record with his belief that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax (among his other wild theories), and that has the Sandy Hook Foundation rankled. In a statement, the foundation said:

“Sandy Hook Promise cannot support the decision by Megyn or NBC to give any form of voice or platform to Alex Jones and have asked Megyn Kelly to step down as our Promise Champion Gala host,” said Nicole Hockley, co-Founder and Managing Director. “It is our hope that Megyn and NBC reconsider and not broadcast this interview.”

Kelly, the former Fox News host, has pre-taped the interview with Jones, which is scheduled to air this Sunday on her new NBC show. For the show’s part, producer Liz Cole believes that airing Jones’ views has benefit.

“He’s a controversial figure for sure, but as journalists it’s our job to interview newsmakers and people of influence no matter how abhorrent their views may be,” Cole told CNN’s Dylan Byers in a Monday night exclusive.

“He is someone who is worthy of examination, by sitting down with him, there’s value in that,” she continued.

Is the interview with Jones really as loaded with controversy as the Sandy Hook Foundation fears? Or is the whole thing much ado about nothing? We won’t really know until the program airs, but one thing’s for sure: it’ll be interesting to see if more controversy follows Kelly after the interview.

Infowars Claims To Have White House Press Credentials

Infowars says it is going mainstream, at least as far as the White House press pool is concerned.

The conspiracy site founded by talk show conspiracy monger Alex Jones is claiming that it has been issued White House press credentials. Infowars says, “In an epic blow to the mainstream media’s control of the narrative, Infowars has officially received White House Press Credentials that will allow Washington Bureau Chief Jerome Corsi to attend White House press briefings.”

Infowars Washington bureau chief Jerome Corsi backed up the claim with a tweet that pictured him in the White House press briefing room. In the tweet, Corsi said, “We have WH PRESS CREDENTIALS. I’m in WH May 22, 2017” [emphasis his].

Both Infowars and Corsi are associated with conspiracy theories and fake news. Infowars has promoted conspiracy theories about numerous topics including the Sandy Hook school massacre and the September 11 attacks. The site was also a prime instigator of the Jade Helm hysteria in 2015 in which fake news sites convinced thousands of residents of Texas that President Obama and the US military were about to declare martial law.

The Russian conspiracy to interfere with the election and help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton seems to the be the only conspiracy that Infowars has not embraced. On several occasions, the site has published articles purporting to debunk the claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians as well as claims that the WikiLeaks email dumps cost Hillary the election.

Jerome Corsi, the fake news site’s new Washington bureau chief, is a good fit for Infowars. In addition to contributing to Infowars, Corsi has also been a writer at World Net Daily, another well-known fringe site. Corsi has also embraced many conspiracy theories over the years, including September 11 conspiracies and the belief that George W. Bush was about to unite the US, Mexico and Canada in a North American Union. Corsi is best known for his advocacy of the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not a natural born US citizen.

Other journalists disputed the Infowars claim that they were granted full press access. Trey Yingst of One America News tweeted that Corsi’s pass was a “day pass White House credential, not a permanent press pass” and noted “High school students can apply for day passes.” Mike Warren of the Weekly Standard tweeted a similar claim.

Corsi claimed in a subsequent tweet that the mainstream media was “insane.” Corsi stands by the claim that Infowars has full press credentials, saying, “WH issues weekly credentials for 3 months to start.”

Even though the Trump Administration has previously issued press credentials to the Gateway Pundit, another conspiracy site, it would be surprising if Infowars were be granted full White House press access. Infowars is one of several sites known to be under investigation by the FBI as part of the probe into Russian meddling in the election. McClatchy News reported in March that the FBI’s counterintelligence division was examining the role of Russian operatives who blitzed social media with pro-Trump stories from sites such as Infowars, Breitbart, RT and Sputnik News.

Infowars reports are as real as professional wrestling. Earlier this year, Alex Jones’s attorney in a custody dispute denied in court that Jones believed the stories that he promoted on his website and broadcasts. “He’s playing a character,” attorney Randall Wilhite said of Jones in the Austin American-Statesman. “He is a performance artist.”

The claim by Infowars and Corsi that the site has received press credentials seems to exaggerated. As Business Insider reports, the temporary pass was even issued on a day in which the president was out of the country and Sean Spicer was not giving a briefing. In essence, the story is just another piece of Jones’s “performance art.”

President Trump also has a history of promoting conspiracies. The president pushed the Obama birth certificate conspiracy for years. Trump has also endorsed conspiracy theories about vaccines, September 11 and even claimed that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. With a history as a reality television star, Trump may have been acting as a performance artist as well. At this point, it does not seem that Trump is willing to go as far as normalizing Infowars, however.

Everything You Need to Know to Understand How Much the Press Corps Hates President Trump

The Circle of Jerks in Washington that makes up the American political press corps hates President Trump. They lean left anyway, but Donald Trump amplifies their biases and arrogance. Having refused even a modicum of introspection after the Presidential election, the Circle of Jerks perceives every word uttered by the President as an insult and believe everyone else over the President.

Consider what happened yesterday.

The Circle of Jerks, taking a reasonable position, loathes the site called Infowars. All right thinking people should, by the way. It is a website that inspired a nutter to go attempt to shoot up a pizza place by pushing crazy conspiracy theories as truth. Infowars has no redeemable value in the minds of sane people.

But Infowars, yesterday, published an email it had obtained from the Trump Administration outlining what would be in the President’s address to Congress tonight. The website suggested they had obtained it exclusively when, in reality, numerous outlets and activists had gotten a copy of the same email, including The Resurgent.

The Circle of Jerks, which loathes Infowars and thinks the site peddles nothing but lies and conspiracy theories, took at face value the website’s claim to exclusivity. They believed the website they think does nothing but lie because their presupposition about President Trump is that he would give a site like that an exclusive.

When I publicly defended the Trump Administration and revealed that The Resurgent and other websites also got that email, more than one reporter acted incredulously. They really believed the President had given that website an exclusive. They really believed a site they think does nothing but lie was actually telling the truth.

Why? Because their presuppositions are to believe the worst about President Trump in every case and not grant him or his administration the benefit of any doubt.

BREAKING: Infowars Gets Scoop on Trump Speech to Congress

The normalization of “fake news” sites by President Trump continues as Infowars is granted an exclusive look at tomorrow night’s speech by the president. The conspiracy site founded by Alex Jones interrupted its exposés of false flag operations to publish a bulleted list of talking points from President Trump’s upcoming address to Congress. The article notes that “It should be noted this was not a leak, but was given directly to Infowars.”

According to the article, “In Tuesday night’s speech, he [Trump] will lay out an optimistic vision for the country that crosses the traditional lines of party, race and socioeconomic status. It will invite Americans of all backgrounds to come together in the service of a stronger, brighter future for our nation.”

“The President will lay out the concrete steps he has already taken to make the American Dream possible for all of our people,” the unattributed article says. “He will talk about how he wants to work with Congress to pass a bold agenda” including “tax and regulatory reform, making the workplace better for working parents, saving American families from the disaster of Obamacare, making sure every child in America has access to a good education, a great rebuilding of the American military and fulfilling our commitments to our veterans and making sure they have access to the care they need.”

Infowars, whose slogan is “there’s a war for your mind,” is best known for its hard-hitting reporting on issues such as the implementation of martial law in Texas under the guise of the Jade Helm military exercise and the claim that members of the Hillary Clinton campaign were involved in a pedophile ring allegedly run out of a District of Columbia pizzeria. These and many other Infowars stories were completely false.

The preferential treatment of Infowars by the Trump Administration comes as the president is increasingly hostile to the mainstream media. Last week, the Trump Administration blocked a number of outlets that had been critical of Trump from attending a press briefing.  Two days later, the president tweeted that he would not attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a function not missed by any president of either party since 1981 when President Reagan was forced to phone in remarks after he had been shot. At one point, Trump even said of the media, “They are the enemy of the people.”

Trump has also elevated Steve Bannon, the publisher of Breitbart News, to the National Security Council, and granted White House access to the Gateway Pundit, a partisan blog. Both Breitbart and Gateway Pundit are well known for their reporting of hoax stories.

Mr. Trump’s association with hoaxes and conspiracies goes back long before his successful presidential campaign. Trump promoted birther conspiracies about both Barack Obama and Ted Cruz. In 2014, Trump suggested that vaccines cause autism and, in 2016, suggested that the truth is not known about the September 11 attacks. Trump also suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

For years, the conspiracy blogs have tainted the reputation of the conservative movement and even served to divide the Republican Party between those who disagree with the left on policy grounds and those who believe that the left is controlled a secret cabal of murdering elites who, by the way, also control the Republican leadership. Now it seems that these purveyors of radical conspiracy theories are more acceptable to the new administration than real news organizations who are critical of the president.

The move to normalize the conspiracy sites is a transparent attempt by President Trump to bypass the mainstream media and take his message directly to his base. As Trump’s war with the press continues, it is likely that favored treatment of sketchy sites will continue as well.

Such actions will limit the ability of Republicans to appeal to moderate and independent voters and have policy proposals treated seriously. President Trump’s normalization and affirmation of these alternative media outlets does not bode well for the mainstream conservatives of the Republican Party.

 

NOTE: After this article was published, we learned that the information published by Infowars was not exclusive and had been sent to many media outlets.

Some Guys Asked People to Rate News Sites. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!

There has been a lot of hubbub over fake news lately. The elevation of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon to White House status and the recent shooting at a Washington pizzeria that was associated with the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory played a role in the current fascination with fake news, but the proliferation of fake news outlets on the internet was bound to cause a stir sooner or later.

I realized several years ago that a lot of the articles that people were posting on Facebook were simply not true. Some were poorly researched or misinterpreted real events, but others were intentionally out to deceive. Some deceptive sites included disclaimers that they were “satire.” Others did not.

Now a new survey by Morning Consult shows that we probably don’t need to be worried too much about fake news. The poll found that Americans have internal BS detectors that are more highly refined than they are generally given credit for.

The survey asked participants to rate 13 popular news organizations, some real and some fake. What the pollsters found out will astound you!

A bipartisan sample rated one notorious fake news site, Alex Jones’ Infowars, as less credible than The Onion, a popular satire site. You heard that right. The conspiracy site, with a recent story headlined “METHODIST CHURCHES CONVERTING TO ‘VIRTUAL MOSQUES’ FOR MUSLIM MIGRANTS,” was deemed to be less believable than a site that carries on its masthead the Latin motto, “Tu stultus es,” which, when translated, means “You’re an idiot.”

The news outlets that were believed to be most credible were ABC, CBS, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and CNN. Each of these outlets was considered credible by more than 60 percent of respondents. Favorability for these outlets cut across party lines, although Democrats rated almost all outlets as more credible than Republicans. Fox News and MSNBC followed, each with 55 percent favorability. NPR scored credible with 51 percent and the Huffington Post with 46 percent.

Bringing up the rear were Steve Bannon’s Breitbart at 19 percent, The Onion at 18 percent and Infowars at 17 percent. The Morning Consult does point out that both Breitbart and Infowars were unfamiliar to almost half of the respondents. In both cases, of the people familiar with the sites, a larger number considered them not credible than credible.

When the results of the survey are broken down along party lines, the results are largely the same. The main change is that Fox News is the most trusted news source among Republicans while it ranks just above The Onion for Democrats. The three major networks and the WSJ rank high among both parties.

The rock bottom rankings for Infowars and Breitbart are richly deserved. While Infowars was a conspiracy site from Day One, Breitbart went from a real conservative news site under Andrew Breitbart to a page that is now known for hysterics about Jade Helm laying the groundwork for martial law and accusing Republicans of colluding with Democrats on “amnesty,” which became the site’s code word for any immigration reform proposal.

Breitbart and Infowars aren’t the only offenders. There is a whole cottage industry of “citizen journalists” who are actively misinterpreting or making up news. At one point, I started compiling a list of fake news sites, but it was impossible to keep pace with new web pages. Among the stories that I have seen are claims that the Affordable Care Act included language to create a secret police force, that Obamacare medical codes showed that Obama was going to bring the guillotine to America as a method of execution, and, of course, last year’s claims that secret tunnels under Wal-Marts were being used as staging areas to prepare for martial law that would keep President Obama in power.

If you are tempted to believe these and other stories floating around the internet, don’t. They were all 100 percent fake.

To avoid being taken in by fake news, work on enhancing your own internal BS detector. Here are a few tips:

  1. If you don’t recognize the site as a real news source, be skeptical. Look carefully, some fake news sites closely mimic the names and pages of real news sources.
  2. If it has a clickbait headline, don’t bother.
  3. When in doubt, look for links to the primary source that the writer used. Most legitimate news sites and blogs will link to their source material. If there is no link, use Google. If you can’t find the real story with Google, it probably doesn’t exist.
  4. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar and inflammatory language are red flags. Legitimate news sites have editors and at least make a pretense of being objective.

The bottom line is to take everything with a grain of salt and learn to fact check for yourself. In the brave new cyber world of Infowars and Breitbart, if it sounds too stupid to be true, it probably is.