Since the election, there’s been a lot of speculation about how fake news and misinformation spread on social media could have affected the outcome. A Buzzfeed News analysis found that falsehoods from hyperpartisan news sites, particularly ultra-conservative pages, were shared at an alarming rate.
If you’ve been following our Tales from the Fever Swamp, which is our series of articles checking facts on Faceook and Twitter, you know it’s not just your crazy uncle disseminating inaccurate information – elected officials and candidates in Colorado are also to blame.
Here are some ways to make sure what you’re reading and sharing is factual, along with examples we’ve seen in Colorado’s very own fever swamps that illustrate what not to do.
Actually read the article.
Fake and unreliable news sites often run incendiary headlines to grab readers’ attention and get more shares and likes. If you actually click on the article, however, you may find the headline grossly exaggerates the content, is intentionally misleading, or doesn’t provide any evidence to support its claim.
Example: The headline for this article claims (in all caps, to increase attention-grabbing potential) that Hillary Clinton committed a crime by sharing nuclear secrets. Take the time to actually read the article and you’ll find it mainly consists of responses from random twitter accounts, which are obviously not reliable news sources. That didn’t stop the former Colorado GOP candidate Raymond Garcia from sharing it anyway.
Consider the source.
Look closely at the website that published what you’re reading. Many websites, like these, consistently and unapologetically post fake news. Here in Colorado, a website called the Denver Guardian posed as a legitimate news source and spread false accusations regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails. Many more may not necessarily be fake, but are extremely unreliable. If you can’t find any info on the site’s mission, staff, or location, it probably isn’t a good news source.
Example: Saguache County GOP Chair Richard Drake posted an article from a website called ThePatriotNation.Net claiming Hillary Clinton insulted rural children during a campaign stop. As Charles Buchanan found, there is no evidence to support the claim.
But let’s look at the website itself. Click the “About” tab, and you will find nothing but suggestions for links you may like, which mostly include close ups of women’s breasts with titles like “Amazingly Dirty Photos You Can Not Unsee” and “25 Teen Stars Who Grew Up Fast.” You may also be bombarded with pop-ups advertising raunchy looking online games. If you’re worried that a website might have just given your computer a virus, chances are it’s not a legitimate news source.
Check the article’s links.
Embedded links in an article are essential – the vast majority of well-reported news stories will likely have some. But just because an article links to a source doesn’t mean it actually supports what is being said. I can say that a new study shows pigs might be able to fly in 2020, and that little link makes it seem more legitimate.
Example: Take this post from Colorado State Senator Tim Neville (R-Littleton) in which he shares an article claiming immigrants will cost taxpayers trillions, according to a report. If you actually read the report the article cites, you’ll find it concludes otherwise.
Bookmark these websites.
Much of the time, websites like snopes.com, politifact.com, and factcheck.org do the work for you. All it takes is a quick search and you can find an in-depth fact check of something that’s being disseminated all over the internet, whether it be a specific article or a widely repeated claim.
Example: John Sampson, the GOP Vice-Chair of Adams County, decided to post “quotes” from Hillary Clinton on his Facebook page. A Snopes search shows they’re not quotes at all.
Beware the meme.
They may not be news, but as we’ve seen, internet memes are rife with misinformation. They never have sources and they’re extremely sharable, so they can spread inaccuracies like wild fire. Again, websites like snopes.com are useful tools.
Example: Take this Facebook fluke from Gunnison County Republican’s page. They shared a meme claiming to show a quote from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about gun violence, which a quick Snopes search would have revealed she never said. The meme didn’t even spell her name correctly, further indicating its unreliability.
Reverse image search engines are your friend.
Websites like TinEye.com let you search images to find out where they have appeared on the web. If you see an image claiming to show something damning or unlikely, chances are you’ll be able to trace it back to the source using a reverse image search.
Example: Raymond Garcia posted this photo claiming to show Hillary Clinton topless with her lesbian lover at Wellesley College. Not only do neither of the women look like Hillary Clinton around the time the photo was taken, but a reverse image search on TinEye.com shows it’s actually a picture taken near San Francisco State College of two unnamed women.