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Sorry, Not Everything You Dislike Is Fake News, But Questioning These Sources IS A Good Idea

We live in the information age. That means with the click of a button, entertainment, self-help, and news media is at our fingertips.

This may sound like a great thing. And it is. Except for one little thing: Regardless of what we’ve been led to believe, not everything we read on the internet is true.

SHOCKER, I know.

Social media sites in particular are a much-loved source of information for people worldwide. According to Pew Research Center, a “nonpartisan American ‘fact tank'” based in Washington, D.C., 49% of Americans got their news from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in 2016. Let that number sink in. Almost half of Americans rely almost exclusively on social media for their information about domestic and world events.

But social media has faced recent scrutiny for its role in the dissemination of false information.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, social media sites such as Facebook have come under fire for potentially influencing the outcome. While Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, characterizes such claims as just short of outrageous, his former employees have a different perspective.

Antonio Garcia-Martinez, author of Chaos Monkeys and former member of Facebook’s targeted ad team, told NPR that they used to joke about how easy it would be to throw an election, adding, “There’s an entire political team and a massive office in D.C. that tries to convince political advertisers that Facebook can convince users to vote one way or the other.” While Zuckerberg may want to believe his platform couldn’t really have swayed voters, the truth is, it’s more than likely.

That’s because Facebook and other social media sites are inundated with “fake news” — websites that either purposely publish misleading information intended to influence readers or websites that, like the MockMom division of this very one, publish satirical news stories for comedic effect — something not all readers, unfortunately, are adept enough at picking up on and, as a result, are then shared and read as “fact.” (Side note: This particular article is NOT satire. Just thought it was worth noting in case there was any question.)

Admittedly, I am among that demographic who rely on social media for a good portion of their information, though I like to temper my social media addiction with real-life news media as well. Still, I recognize this as a problem. When I customize my newsfeed to include posts from people and publications that align with my beliefs, what am I getting? One-sided, potentially misleading information. And that’s not good for anyone.

So what do we do? How do we make sure the media we rely upon for up-to-date information about domestic and world affairs is reliable?

The first step is determining a publication’s credentials. Is it biased? Does it employ journalistic professionals, or is it more of an opinion-based blog? What can you find out about the writers’ or broadcasters’ backgrounds and qualifications? Does the publication cite numerous, fact-based sources? Most importantly, can you double check the information against other, credible sources that fit the same criteria?

Another step is paying for television and print subscriptions to credible news media. I know. Nobody wants to shell out pocket money when there’s so much free information to be had on our smart phones. But it’s necessary in weeding out the reliable from the bogus.

Business Insider has put together a nice list of most trusted and non-trusted news sources in America. Pew Research Center has also conducted a study exploring media trends based on political affiliation that’s worth investigating as you choose which sources of information you can trust.

And one assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College has put together a starter list of known biased and fake news sources to avoid (or to be sure to check against other, more reliable sources of information) that’s a must-see for modern media consumers (available below).

And if you don’t believe me (which is a good sign you’re either a pro at being a critical consumer of information or are on your way to being one), check what I’ve presented here against other, more credible sources.

After all, our website does host a satirical division, and though this article is not published under that domain, you have every right, not to mention an obligation, to be skeptical.

UPDATE: See the most recent version of the list, embedded below. (Or click here to see the document in its own window.)