Is It Truth, or Propaganda? Part 1
How to Tell “Fake News” from Facts
In these days of disinformation, it can be very hard to tell what information is true, and what is false. In addition to political rhetoric, advertising and marketing campaigns can be quite confusing. And the news media is under consistent attack from some quarters for being “fake.”
Ultimately, we are all individually responsible for what we choose to believe. And, we all want to know the truth. Here are some guidelines to distinguish “fake news” from facts.
- Look for facts in the article. Much stirring and controversial rhetoric is out there, but when you look behind the inflammatory headlines, where are the facts? Saying something is “fraudulent” or a “shadow conspiracy” or a “violation of democracy” certainly gets attention and immediately implies that what’s being written about is true and alarming. Look deeper to find the facts that support the rhetoric. If there aren’t any facts, beware.
- Spot the difference between “Opinion” and “News.” News is fact-based. Opinion is just that – what someone thinks. Editorials in newspapers are opinion. Commentators talking about the news of the day is opinion. Newscasters reporting what is happening is news. (Or should be).
- Tune in to the subtleties that may slant news, especially on television. Side remarks by newscasters, how headlines are formulated, and what the news channels choose to report on as news can subtly reveal a bias. For example, consider the difference in these headlines, “Government announces a new measure to …..” and “XXX blames YYY for …..” One is factual, one contains an opinion and makes the news somehow personal.
- Consider the source. Information that is posted on social media can be false and libelous, and those who post and share it have no accountability. They can lie, damage and destroy reputations, and spread complete fabrications, without consequences. In the traditional news media, however, articles that present false information open the journalist and the media outlet to being sued. If someone is crying “fake news,” and not suing, even though they have the financial means to do so, that should tell us something – such as, maybe the stories are actually true. While there have been a couple of instances in the last 30 years in which journalists were fired for fabricating information, this is a minuscule part of stories that are published in traditional media. No one wants to be sued, and no one wants to destroy their career. Consequently, there are legal, financial, and reputational pressures on the traditional news media to be non-biased and factual that does not exist in social media or in partisan publications.
- Check in with how the news makes you feel. Are you scared? Are you angry? Maybe someone is trying to manipulate you emotionally. Often the purpose of propaganda is to arouse fear or rage, emotions which cause people to be more engaged with what they are reading. Check your gut – your emotions will inform you.
Being attuned to evaluating information by these criteria should alert your “misinformation antenna” that something needs to be evaluated more closely rather than being taken at face value.