6 Tips to Battle Fake News Now

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6 Tips to Battle Fake News Now

By Jaci Clement, jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

Election season.

It’s that time of year when overpriced pumpkin spice lattes and apple cider donuts provide a wee bit of comfort to the masses exasperated by the onslaught of what passes for political news coverage in this modern era. But enough about mainstream media.

Today we need to have a heart-to-heart about fake news, which has stepped up its game dramatically. No longer content to often appear as errant postings on social media sites, fake news 3.0 is now mixing it up in the virtual and real worlds: A population explosion of fake local news websites is taking place, and in a new twist, fake printed newspapers are beginning to land in your mailbox. This one-two punch of digital and old-school communication techniques is hazardous to your vote because it’s designed to lead you to believe the content is to be trusted. Those old-time propaganda flyers that used to fill your mailbox, pre-2022? Remember them fondly. 

To its credit, mainstream news media is paying attention to this trend. But that’s not enough to protect your right to vote for whomever you feel is most qualified. To that end, here are a few tips to help you navigate today’s information battleground.

1. Know the Source. First and foremost, pay attention to the source of your local news. Ideally, you want to recognize the name of the media outlet as one that is established in the community — in general, the older the media outlet, the better. (Local town government websites often list news media covering the community.) When it comes to online news, fake news sites often mimic the look of local news sites, so pay close attention to the actual name of the site and the URL.

Also recommended: Be familiar with the name of the reporter on the story. If that’s not something you normally notice, now’s a great time to start paying attention.

2. Get Your News Directly from the Source. Because it’s far too easy for fake news to take real news and manipulate it in the digital world, it’s now more important than ever to go directly to the source. Do not rely on social media sites to bring you the news, and do not rely on news aggregators (sites that provide a round-up of news on a particular topic or geographic area from a variety of sources). 

3. Watch your Inbox. You know how easy it is for junk mail to litter your inbox. Is it any surprise that fake news articles and fake newsletters are landing in there, too? If you don’t recognize the source, treat it as spam: Report it, block it, and have a nice day.

4. Watch your Mailbox. Are new newspapers suddenly appearing in your mailbox? That’s interesting, for two reasons. One, it’s common knowledge that printed news is on the decline because news outlets using a primarily subscription-based business model can’t afford the costs associated with the printing and distribution of the product. Two, the cost of paper has skyrocketed in recent months. Combined, the likelihood of your established media suddenly going back to print is outlandishly far-fetched. Use those new, unknown newspapers to wrap fish. Nothing more. (BTW, if you think creating a fake newspaper is too hard to do, there’s a plethora of websites that offer easy-to-use templates along with printing services.)

5. Prioritize Live Debates. Local debates remain one of the best ways to assess candidates, so make a point of listening to or watching live debates as they happen. Do not rely on the highlight reels that often make the rounds on social media after the fact — those can be edited in many ways, to both flatter and diminish candidates. Live is where it’s at. (If you can’t view or listen to the live version, pay attention to how the local news outlet treats the recorded version: Messaging at the beginning of the debate should note that it is unedited, and thus, unchanged from the live version.)

6. Plan a Two-Week Vacation from Social Media. Those two weeks before Election Day are when things get out of control on social — and you can bet that fake news will be hitting you from all sides to sway your vote. Stop it in its tracks: Stay off of social, and encourage others to join you. 

No matter what your political leaning, the above tips should help you and yours find information worth your time — and your vote. 

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