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How to spot a fake news story

October 30 in 1938. An actor Orson Welles announced to radio listeners that Martians were invading the Earth. People believed in that news. It caused real chaos. It turned, it was the realistic dramatisation of the famous science-fiction book “The War of the Worlds”. The information was very convincing. The radio station clarified that it was a weekly broadcast of the new series created in collaboration with the Mercury Theatre. It was a fake news story. Fast forward a few decades, and we have a fresh take on the news business. With better technology, the global connection of the internet, and instant gratification urge, we look for thrilling news, constant entertainment and the satisfying rush of the dopamine. Our challenge is the same – how to spot a fake news story?

Who wrote it? ✍️ ❓

First and foremost, we can try to identify the author and the source. Some authors prefer to use their pseudonyms, so it could be challenging to find their real names.
Another difficulty with the source of information is that today everything is instant. Someone mentions something in the morning. Next, it becomes big news. Subsequently, other news agencies don’t want to lose the clickbait battle. As a result, they bluntly copy and paste the piece of information without validating the source.

It the best case, they will apologise tomorrow. In the worst case, the data will not be clarified, and it’s there, in the wild internet, adding to the confusion. Sometimes it is like being a detective.

  • Who wrote it? Validate the author.
  • Who does this individual work for? Validate the source.

Can you summarise in one sentence what is this about? 1️⃣ 🔍

Read the whole story. Reread it. Finally, answer the following questions:

  • What is the main topic of the story? (not the headline)
  • What emotions is this story sparking in you?
  • Does it scare you?
  • Does it cheer you?
  • Maybe it calms you down?
  • Do you put this story in any particular box of your beliefs or worldviews?
  • Is the stroryline convincing?
  • Does it urge you to take any action?

The idea at this stage is to try to understand what the story is really about. And if there are any calls for action.

Objective arguments “for” 👍

We deconstruct the story from an emotional level and try to distil the essence and the real intention. Are there any explicit or implicit calls for action. Should we follow, should we be against. Let’s try to find out. We need to write down all arguments for both sides. Let’s start with cases “for”.

Objective arguments “against” 👎

The same idea applies here. Try to distil all arguments what you should not follow what is suggested in the story. Maybe the author contradicts him/herself. Perhaps there is something off in the complete information. Use your gut feeling, write everything down. It may not be directly from the text. You have a certain feeling after reading a certain paragraph? Write it down. It reminds you something that you have seen or read already. Make a note. It will help with the next steps.

If you were able to identify the author, compare the article you are deconstructing with previous writing of that person. Is it consistent? Does he/she have integrity?

Validate the information ℹ️ 🧐

You wrote down these basic things from the article itself. Now it is time to validate it. Try to find similar articles. Maybe you have your favourite authors or trusted source. Perhaps you have a friend who is closer to the subject and know how to spot a fake news story. Try to compare, analyse and be vigilant about emotions. Our gut feeling is usually a good first test for straight lies. Write everything down to double down on analysis.

What do you think about it based on your findings do far? 🙇‍♂️ 🤔

Read your notes. Reread the article, and try to answer those final questions:

  • Is this straight manipulation?
  • Is the text emotional? Why?
  • Is the story consistent with facts?
  • Is the story mix of fake news and facts? How do you spot the fake news part?
  • After reading that article, have you changed your position/thinking on a given topic?

Lessons learned from this coffee journey ☕️ 🎓

We consume an enormous amount of information these days. Some of them will challenge our thinking. This is a good thing. We want to be open-minded, it allows us to grow. In the end, we want to learn something new, and there are a lot of jewels out there. We live in fantastic times. We have easy access to all information in most of the places in the world.

Having this said, there are people, companies and institutions which will try to fool us. They will try to persuade to take actions, to sell, to vote. Current technology allows us to create very convincing and real looking stories. It is up to us to stay vigilant and to be the guardians of the truth. There is no one suitable method on how to spot the fake news story. We can only limit our exposure to information overload. We should be critical, evaluative and at the end, selective, to what we believe is truth or fake.

I presented a template, the word of caution though for the schematic approach:

  • if you think the story is true, it may free you from critical thinking
  • if you decide the story is fake, you decline it, and then, maybe, you reject to find the truth.

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