It is vitally important to be able to distinguish truth from untruth. When policies and propaganda are working against your interests this skill will help focus your efforts, conserve your energy, and make smarter choices.
Learn to recognize sources of fake news. NPR’s all tech considered has detailed instructions for this in their “Fake Or Real? How To Self-Check The News And Get The Facts” guide. It includes these recommendations:
- Pay attention to the domain and URL (abcnews.com and abcnews.com.co are not the same thing)
- Read the “About Us” section (and see what is said about those people by other sources)
- Look at the quotes in a story (or rather, look at the lack of quotes)
- Look at who said them (and verify them if they seem particularly extreme)
- Check the comments (to quickly assess if many call out that the story is fake or misleading)
- Reverse image search (Is that picture they say is from yesterday really from 2007?)
- Remember that some stories are jokes (The Onion and Clickhole stories aren’t real)
That guide is just a taste of the skills you can quickly learn. The Center for News Literacy has lots of resources for teachers which provide anyone with easy to understand, focused lessons on becoming more perceptive news consumers. Every day switch the time you spend on one iffy article spread around on social media and instead devote it to building your critical thinking muscles. Dig deeper.
A fundamental skill covered in that material, for example, is identifying whether what you’re looking at is journalism, advertising, publicity, propaganda, entertainment, or raw information. The conclusions you can draw from it depend on which it is.
Learn to detect bias in news media. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, definitely not to be confused with the extremist anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform) has a good guide to detecting bias. Pay attention to the sources used and their affiliation. Watch out for a lack of diversity in viewpoint and background. Observe from whose point of view the news is being reported. Look for double standards and use of stereotypes. Tune in to the assumptions which are going unchallenged. These and other observations will give you the context of the conclusions which that source is promoting. Be sure to assess them for all the news media you consume, not just that with which you disagree.
One key sign of credibility is a willingness to speak truth to power. Support news media who will not repeat without question whatever is handed to them by politicians, corporations, or others who have the ability to drastically alter our lives now or in the future. Support sources which continue to ask hard questions, to conduct themselves ethically, to place information in context, and to generally exemplify good journalism. For example, ProPublica, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times have been doing good work and have been joined recently by a surprising outlet of solid writing, Teen Vogue.
No source is perfect; continue to do your own research and to ask your own hard questions as well.