The digital era is in full effect and is certainly here to stay. Though 69 percent of American adults own a smartphone, television remains the dominant news medium with 57 percent of Americans getting their news from a television screen. However, we can expect this national preference to change in the near future.
With 50 percent of people ages 18 to 29 getting their news from social media sites and news websites/apps, the web is becoming the platform that the majority of Americans are relying on to be informed about the world.
With any news medium that becomes heavily relied on by Americans, the problem of questionable sources remains. Journalism has long been a field associated with having the power to influence on a local, national, and global level. This, of course, means great responsibility. As journalists work to disseminate information at these levels, the effect that can be expected once this information has reached the public should be considered.
Like many companies in our consumer-based economy, some news sites will do what it takes to gain the greatest profit. This means releasing more unreliable news articles with click-bait headlines that create a strong reaction in unsuspecting Facebook and Twitter users. Links to these articles are more likely to gain circulation, therefore creating more traffic on news outlets’ websites.
The responsibility rests on the shoulders of our social media and internet savvy generation to recognize and disregard these news outlets, organizations, and political action committees all contending for website traffic.
This phenomenon is especially worrisome considering the fact that young adults are not entirely skilled in identifying fake news sites, unreliable sources, and false information itself. According to findings of a year and a half-long study conducted by researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, only a quarter of high school students tested could recognize the blue checkmark that identifies a verified source on a Facebook post.
In order to create a generation of well-informed rather than ill-informed Americans, digital literacy for online sources must be taught. Here are some tips that can help you become a better online fact-checker:
- Look beyond the headline: Always read past the headline or opening paragraph before sharing an article link. Fake news publishers often exploit this surface reading behavior by writing just enough in the first paragraph that readers feel that they have gotten a gist of the article’s content.
- What news outlet released it?: Googling the name of a site covered in ads and all-caps headlines can reveal how reputable the source is.
- Who wrote the article?: If there is one, click on the name of the author(s) to see the other kinds of articles they have written.
- Search if other news outlets are reporting it: Considering corporate news bias, one other trustworthy news site should be covering the story as well.
- Odd domain names can also mean untruthful information: Avoid websites that end in “lo” or “. com.co.” These sites either mix truthful information with inaccurate facts, or are imitations of reputable news organizations’ websites.
- Read from multiple sources: Always read from various sources to be aware of different viewpoints on issues.
In a time when apathy about current issues is common place, indifference to the mass circulation of untruthful information is one of the greatest threats to society. If all internet users attempt a conscious method of browsing the web, as well as dispel personal agendas that condone the spread of biased information, we can work towards stopping the spread of fake news.
By Tiana Headley