About six months ago, I went on a beach vacation, being the reader that I am, of course I brought a book! However, unlike most relaxing, girly, beach-reading material, I brought the dystopian novel by George Orwell, 1984. I ended up loving the book and when I returned state side, I had a stunning realization: our community was about as oblivious to the manipulation of the news as the people in Oceania had been in the novel. Six months later I have begun seeing comparisons between Orwell’s classic and what has been happening in the news recently…so I’ll just say it now, I’m psychic! But I really wish that I had been wrong when I made my initial comparison between Orwell’s fictional world and our very real one.
First thing’s first, fact and fiction: different; facts and “alternative facts:” different. Of course there are some who argue that statistics are “alternative facts” due to phenomena like confirmation bias, but that’s another can of worms that can be opened later. It’s important to realize that these “alternative facts” do not carry the same weight and value as real facts. I’m sure many people think they can discern between the two, but just because a “fact” is in something that resembles a newspaper does not make it one! So then how ought we to start determining which “news” sources to trust?
Let’s go back to grade school for a moment; even at the elementary level, teachers stress the importance of distinguishing credible and non-credible websites/books. For example, Wikipedia is great for background knowledge, but not for quoting. Additionally, check out the “About Us” section, are any disclaimers on their page? Many satirical sites look like professional ones; you cannot simply trust a brief look over of a page. Also, whatever happened to double checking sources? Verifying to see if multiple (credible) sources are reporting similarly is hugely important; when the same facts are repeated multiple times, it’s probably fairly accurate, but still important to read with some skepticism. Finally, there are many media professionals who are compiling lists of news sites they deem more (or less) credible than others, when in doubt cross-check at least two of those so you can make an informed decision about what to read. Just because an article may have a fact wrong, that doesn’t make it fake news; and just because something is presented as a fact, it doesn’t mean it has any legitimate value. Read with skepticism, and read a variety of sources, for further suggestions on how to discern fake news and alternative facts, check out the links below!