Some Tips to Detect Fake News

Two things to keep in mind:

Remember the business model of media entities. Beneath the noble intention of sharing information, the business model of media companies is to maximize the number of people seeing ads on their properties, so they maximize traffic. How? Boring stuff doesn’t drive traffic, but drama, and thus exaggeration, does.

Remember the goal of arguments, even online. A successful argument refutes the central thesis of the other party’s argument. Beware of fallacies and biases like personal attacks (ad hominem), misrepresenting/exaggerating the opponent’s argument to make it easier to attack (straw man fallacy), or saying that something is true because it’s supported by an authority (appeal to authority). There are many more.

Without further ado, here are the tips: 

  1. Check the source. A random Twitter/X account with 13 followers can share a post with 1M views. But it doesn’t mean that the content is legit. Even accounts with a lot of followers are unreliable. One example is The Spectator Index (2.5M followers) which always exaggerates its claims for more views. Check the replies, check the origin of the information. Who shared it first? Yes, reputable sources are very hard to find. A heuristic I use is that if the content is sensationalistic and without context, there is a good chance that the “fact” is being exploited.
  2. Cross-check with other sources. If only one source shares the information, and you feel that they might not be a primary source, then exercise caution. One source is not enough to guarantee the validity of the information. Consider checking other sources. 
  3. Check dates & times. A lot of people discard checking the date or time of content they share. Don’t be like them! Check the date & time. 
  4. Beware of emotional manipulation. Maybe I’m weird but my radar is triggered when the content shared is particularly dramatic (physical abuse, suffering children). Indeed, whenever we see suffering, our rational mind shuts off, and we are outraged (this is good) so we externalize it and forget to check the source, cross-verify, or check the date (this is less good). 
  5. Ask the Internet for verification. There’s a useful Discord server. Check: www.projectowl.one. They are an Open Source Intelligence community. You can post a piece of info on the Discord and have people try and verify it. 

Remember to take a break from reading all of these dreadful news. Surely humans are not meant to process such a large amount of vivid violent imagery. 

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