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5 Foolproof Ways to Spot Fake News

Our clear-cut guide to determining who you can trust and which links are total BS.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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It's easy to understand how fake news flourished in the past. Back when internet access wasn't quite so ubiquitous and social media was but a dream– or distant nightmare, depending on your perspective–folks had no quick way of checking the veracity of their sources.

For instance, in the 1990s, the ridiculous story of a mutant snake (a terrifying half-man, half-snake hybrid) slithered into the consciousness of gullible Pinoys who became convinced that this creature would prey on women, among them actress Alice Dixson, in Robinsons Galleria's fitting rooms.

Then again, these days—despite the presence of Google and social media platforms giving us direct access to expert opinion and verified facts—there are still multitudes who fall for fake news. Fact checkers were no match for the forces of mass disinformation which were hard at work during recent presidential elections. However, the elections may be over, but it looks like fake news is here to stay.

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In her article for The Huffington Post Anna Almendrala noted, "Science pinpoints why people fall for fake news—and what we can do about it. There are no signs that these fictionalized articles, spread mostly on the internet via social media, are going away anytime soon. In fact, they’re a prominent feature of what some have dubbed the 'post-truth era'—a time when the general public can't seem to agree on basic facts, let alone reach consensus on tackling a problem."

The multitudes who help spread fake news fall into two categories: the unsuspecting victims who fail to fact check, and the self-appointed information crusaders who are eager to share anything (whether true or false) that strengthens their arguments for any given issue.

The latter are too far gone for us to save, but the former can still be led back towards the light. Experts such as Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor of communication and media at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, have shared a helpful list of tips for analyzing news sources. Zimdars' detailed guide aims to save everyone from falling for fake news. She also assumes that everyone will make an effort to do their own fact checks. Unfortunately, we don't share her optimism.

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Our aim for our own set of tips on how to fight fake news is more modest, as we have already accepted that there are people who simply refuse to shake their fake news addiction. Here's a relatively painless five-step guide that will hopefully update your BS sensors.


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1| Admit that you don't think before you click.

The reminder, "Think before you click," has transformed from a catchy warning to a tragic cliché. Let's get real. We tend to click the share button without examining the content we're sharing.

A 2016 study by the US-based Media Insight Project revealed that "people trust news based on who shared it, not on who published it." The same thing happens with Pinoys. We immediately assume that the information shared by our friends or people we respect is legit. That's not always the case. You can keep loving your grandpa, but you might not want to keep sharing his favorite stories of President Ferdinand Marcos as a war hero.

If you don't have time to read or examine the shared content yourself to determine if the data or the images haven't been (spin-)doctored, then don't share the link. Many fake news sites make themselves look legit by copying the names and logos of reliable news outfits. If you're not careful, you may unwittingly share their stories. So, take note: “If you're not sure, don't share.”

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2| Mind the date.

People from every part of the political spectrum are guilty of sharing old news which they believe to be new. We're not talking about sharing past news articles as references, we're referring to twisting old news in order to rile up people over a current, and often unrelated, issue.

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As Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson explained in their FackCheck.org article, "Some false stories aren’t completely fake, but rather distortions of real events. These mendacious claims can take a legitimate news story and twist what it says—or even claim that something that happened long ago is related to current events."

For instance, earlier this month, when Senator Koko Pimentel irked some groups for his stand on the death penalty, some Facebook users started sharing links to reports of his wife seeking an annulment, which happened a few years earlier. The links were accompanied by taunting captions that read, "Here's karma for you, Koko." We’re no experts, but that’s not how karma works.

3| Seek an nth opinion.

Erroneous news can be just as bad as fake news. With so many news agencies and experts providing information, it doesn't make sense to rely on just one single source. Yes, there are trusted news sources, but even they can make mistakes.

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Ever heard of the term, “nakuryente (electic shock-ed)”? It's a term which refers to news agencies releasing stories which turn out to not be true. A prime example is the ABS-CBN late-night news program Bandila, which in 2014 reported on a flesh-eating disease outbreak in Pangasinan. It turned out to be a hoax.

You have nothing to lose if you consult several sources before you come up with your own take on the matter.


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4| Wait it out.

Who can forget the time when the early editions of the country's top broadsheets—The Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Manila Bulletinall declared that embattled OFW Mary Jane Veloso had already been executed in Indonesia? (For the record, she is alive.)

Newsrooms regularly go into a breaking news frenzy. When this happens, accuracy is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of being first. In this atmosphere of haste, nobody is 100% accurate all the time.

While news agencies thrive on being the first to break new stories, you are under no such pressure. You have all the time in the world to either check other sources for more reliable information or to wait until more details are available. The world as you know it won't end if you aren't able to share a story the moment that it's out.


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5| Elevate your mind.

There is a vast world outside the news cycle—a wealth of reading materials and actual experiences that will enlighten you on the real state of the nation (even political leaders can sometimes get their facts wrong; just ask President Duterte where the Benham Rise is located).

Asking more questions about issues that don't seem to make sense will work to your advantage. Take, for example, the recent fake story about Canada waiving visa requirements for Pinoys. Those who fell for it easily could have checked the Canadian embassy's website to verify this claim. After all, posting visa announcements online is standard for embassies. They could also have called the Canadian embassy. Why didn't it occur to them to do so? Perhaps, constant exposure to questionable news online has caused people to trust in their own common sense.

So, remember: You're less likely to share fake news if you know what's going on in the real world.

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