“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. They control the minds of the masses. If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X
Myth: The media is an honest, impartial source of information that exists for the benefit of the public, to keep us informed of what’s going on in the world, and to let us know the most important facts of the day.
Reality: The media is a business which exists solely for the purpose of making money, and to shape public opinion by pushing propaganda – political and corporate.
Ask yourself: Why would some multi-billion-dollar media organisation bend over backwards and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep you informed of what’s going on around the world 24/7 live in real-time for free? What’s in it for them? What do they get out of it?
Regardless of whether you get your news online, through social media, CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX, the BBC or anyone else, you need to be able to spot fake news, and to be able to sort fact from fiction, truth from lies, reality from fantasy.
Fake news spreads faster than real news
MIT did the largest ever study into fake news and examined approx. 126,000 stories tweeted by 3 million people, more than 4.5 million times, between 2006 and 2017, and found that fake news spreads 6 times faster than real news in all categories of information, and is 70% more likely to be retweeted than real news.
“Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people.” – Sinan Aral, MIT
People believe and trust fake news
As strange as it sounds, people are just as likely – if not more likely – to believe fake news, as they are real news:
“It turns out that the more unbelievable headlines and articles readers are exposed to, the more it warps their compass—making the real seem fake and the fake seem real. The more extreme a headline, the longer participants spend processing it, and the more likely they are to believe it. The more times an unbelievable claim is seen, the more likely they are to believe it.” – Ryan Holiday,
Since fake news isn’t going anywhere, and most people can’t spot the difference between fake news and real news, you need to know how to spot it so you’re not duped by it yourself.
How to spot fake news
Questions to ask yourself when you’re reading and watching “the news”
In this list I’ve combined tips from the world’s leading fact checkers:
As well as adding in some critical thinking questions of my own.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself the next time you read or watch the news:
Is the information from a trusted source?
I don’t think any source is completely trustworthy, but some sources are clearly more trustworthy than others.
According to this survey (which you shouldn’t trust) these are some of the most trusted news sources in America (which is only public opinion – and therefore means nothing). I’m not saying I endorse or trust any of these news sites personally:
- Associated Press News
- BBC News
- The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
- The Economist
- Pro Publica
Just because a news station is popular or number one in the ratings, that doesn’t mean it’s trustworthy, or that you should automatically believe the information presented to you as if it were fact
Does the journalist or news station have a history of clickbait journalism?
What is the bias of the author, magazine, newspaper, news station?
Are they conservative or liberal?
You can check the bias of a particular news station here: Media Bias Fact Check
- Fox news
- The Huffington Post
- The New York Times
- The Washington Post
- The Guardian
Most of the late shows also try to push a liberal agenda:
- Stephen Colbert
- Jimmy Kimmel
- Seth Meyers
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
What is the purpose of this news story?
Why was it created?
What narrative is the journalist or media organisation trying to push?
- Black lives matter
- Gender pay gap
- Gay marriage
- Transgender equality
- White privilege
What does the journalist/news station want you to think/believe/do?
Why is this important? Why do I need to know this?
How does it affect me? Of the thousands of things that happened today, why is the royal wedding the number one story, and not a mass shooting, or 100 people dying in a plane crash?
Is it even news?
Even if it isn’t “fake news”, is it even “news”?
- Laurel vs Yanny
- Stormy Daniels
- A celebrity breakup or a wardrobe malfunction
Most “news” isn’t news at all. It’s clickbait garbage. Most news websites should be renamed to clickbait.com or propaganda.com because that’s all they are.
99% of all “news” fits into one or more of the following categories:
- Fake news
- Fear mongering
- Hatchet jobs (“Strong criticism that is often unfair and is intended to harm somebody/something” – Oxford Dictionary)
- Puff pieces (“An article or story in the media that is excessively complimentary about a person, product, event, etc. – Oxford Dictionary)
- Propaganda – corporate or political
- What some celebrity said or did
Bill Maher absolutely nails it here:
“Since so much of what passes for today’s “journalism” is anything but. For example: When an internet headline reads “You won’t believe” – yes you will – and no it’s not news. When anyone is demanding an apology, unless they have hostages, that’s not news. And when the offended group are identified as “the internet”, “Twitter”, or “people”, it’s nobody. I used to think something was “news” if a journalist reported it. But it’s just nonsense made to keep you perpetually offended with an endless stream of controversies that aren’t controversial, and outrages that aren’t outrageous.” – Bill Maher
Bill Maher is right. Mark Manson calls it “outrage porn”:
“Outrage porn”: rather than report on real stories and real issues, the media find it much easier (and more profitable) to find something mildly offensive, broadcast it to a wide audience, generate outrage, and then broadcast that outrage back across the population in a way that outrages yet another part of the population. This triggers a kind of echo of bullshit pinging back and forth between two imaginary sides, meanwhile distracting everyone from real societal problems. It’s no wonder we’re more politically polarized than ever before.” – Mark Manson
The problem is:
“People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” – A. J. Liebling
Has this story already been debunked?
Websites dedicated to fact checking:
Check these websites to see if a certain claim, story, or tweet, has already been debunked, but don’t trust any of these websites to do your thinking for you, because they may mislead you with their own political biases.
Are you being presented with facts or opinions?
If facts, on what basis are they facts? The internet and the ‘news’ is full of gossip, speculation, and opinion, masquerading as fact.
Does the journalist or news station provide any evidence or sources to support these claims? If so, how credible are these sources?
Does the headline logically follow from the data?
Most headlines are just clickbait designed to anger, offend or shock you.
The media knows that anger and outrage spreads faster than truth, and that’s why everything is “Unbelievable” “Chilling” “Disturbing” “Horrific” “Terrifying” etc.
“The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger.” – Ryan Holiday,
Do the photos fit the story?
Sometimes photos are doctored, other times they’re real but don’t fit the story.
Often photos are carefully selected to paint someone in a certain light.
“Some fake news stories use real, yet unrelated images. By using Google for a reverse image search, you can find the actual source of the photo. (Sadly, this trick does not work for video — try these tips instead)” – Politifact
How has the information in this story been framed or spun?
Hardly any news stories are unbiased.
Is it a hatchet job or a puff piece?
Is this story really just a hatchet job? (“A severe criticism or malicious written or verbal attack meant to ruin someone’s reputation.” – The Free Dictionary
Or a puff piece? (“An article or story in the media that is excessively complimentary about a person, product, event, etc. – Oxford Dictionary)
Is the story attacking the argument or the person?
The media love to label people, and they love to attack the person instead of the argument (ad hominem fallacy)
If they can’t refute the argument or the evidence being presented, they’ll often ignore the argument completely, and attack the person presenting it by calling them ‘crazy’, a ‘lunatic’, a bigot, homophobe, liar, racist, sexist etc.
Is it a strawman?
Is the journalist or news station attacking or presenting you with a straw man argument (Misrepresenting the beliefs or opinions of someone)
Are you being presented with both sides of the story?
The answer is No.
Whose perspective is this presented from?
America’s or someone else’s?
Conservative or liberal?
Religious or secular?
Men or Women?
Black or White?
What other points of view might be equally valid or worth looking into?
What do the other news stations say?
Try to pay attention to multiple sources instead of getting all of your news and information from just one station.
When was this published?
Check the date of publication to see if the story is still relevant and up to date.
Does the medias version of ‘reality’ reflect your own?
Is the information presented to you by the media something you can easily identify with because it reflects your daily life experiences, or does it contradict it?
Is it a stacked audience/panel?
If you’re watching a group/panel discussion, is there an equal distribution of liberal and conservative pundits, or is it a stacked panel of 90% liberals and a token conservative? (The usual scenario as seen on shows like Bill Maher and The View)
Is favoritism being shown?
If there is a discussion or a debate on a contentious topic e.g. abortion or gun control:
- Is the host showing any kind of favoritism or an obvious bias towards one side or the other?
- Is the host giving more airtime, credibility, or respect to one of the guests?
- Is the host picking sides or ganging up on one of the guests?
- Is the host trying to make one side look bad, ignorant, or stupid?
Is the host/interviewer asking “gotcha” questions?
In an interview: Is the interviewer/journalist asking a lot of leading, loaded, or “gotcha” questions?
Has the interview been edited?
If you’re watching an interview, has it been edited to make someone look bad, or to make them say things they didn’t say?
The media is notorious for editing interviews with people they either don’t like and/or don’t agree with, in order to make them look bad, and for editing out answers that don’t suit the narrative they’re trying to push
Is someone being quoted out of context?
Read/watch the interview and/or Google the quotes if you’re not sure.
Does the domain look credible?
Watch out for news websites that end in “.com.co” as they’re often fake versions of real news sources
Is it satire?
Not all fake news is “fake news”, sometimes it’s satirical like The Onion
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Don’t shoot the messenger.”
But that’s only because the messenger is supposed to be an impartial conduit of information, instead of a dishonest, lying, fear mongering, race baiting, shit stirrer.
Americans don’t trust the media with 77% saying they believe the mainstream media reports fake news, and we know that lots of journalists have lied to us in the past.
In fact, it seems that the media has been dishonest for quite some time:
“A newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, to true facts & sound principles only. Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors.” – Thomas Jefferson, 14 June 1807
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” – Mark Twain
I find it highly amusing that the media loves to criticize others, but they can’t take criticism themselves:
“Anytime anyone criticizes the media, the media shrieks “You’re just like Trump!” Why do you think he got elected in the first place? Because no ones believes you any more. You lost your credibility a long time ago.” – Elon Musk
Yep, the media have no problem lying, putting out fake news, fear mongering, spreading rumors, doing everything they can to destroy someone’s reputation etc. but the moment they’re called “fake news” they can’t handle it. The media is now trying to scare people into trusting them by saying that calling the media “fake news” is “how dictatorships start”.
Of course the media wants you to trust them, just like politicians and salespeople want you to trust them. But they can’t be trusted. They’ve proven that time and time again. Because journalists aren’t honest, and they’re not truth seekers, they’re fear mongers, race baiters, shit stirrers, “the boy who cried wolf”, or as Bill Maher puts it:
“The news media lost trust because they became eyeball-chasing clickbait whores who dumped the story about climate change for the ones about grizzly bears in the Jacuzzi.” – Bill Maher
One last thought: Governments are trying to stop fake news but they can’t and they won’t. Fake news has been around forever. Lying and propaganda is as old as mankind itself. Even if governments pass laws to stop fake news, people will find a way around it.
Elon Musk says he’s going to create a website that will allow users to rate the truth of articles of individual journalists and news organizations.
I like the idea, but don’t wait for it.
You need to think for yourself.
Don’t let the media tell you:
- What to think
- What to believe
- What the facts are
- What the truth is
- What things mean
- What’s important
- What matters
- Who the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are
- Who your heroes and role models should be
Think for yourself and make your own mind up.
“The three rules of journalism are 1. Mislead 2. Misinform 3. Misdirect. The news serves to sever you from reality and keep you in fantasy land.” – Jarod Kintz