Fact-checking in a time of crisis

Fact-checking in a time of crisis

When major world events occur, facts can become harder to come by.  In a media climate where 53% of Americans get their news from social media, it is imperative that we as a society learn how to find good quality information when international conflicts can interrupt the flow of news coverage.  Here are some tips on how to stay informed.

An image search on Google Images can help you discern the source of an image in a fake news story.
  • Double check images.

Images are harder to check than text – they require extra effort to decipher their meaning and accuracy, and many people are more willing to believe fake news when there is a visual component.  Fake news sites will capitalize on fear and outrage by reusing images from older events or other locations that are unrelated to the topics of their stories.  This technique is known as fauxtography, a portmanteau of faux (meaning fake) and photography.  However, there is an easy way to investigate the accuracy of images.  Use Google Images to do an image search on any image that looks suspicious.  First, right-click on the image and select “Copy image address.”  Next, go to Google Images and click on the camera icon in the search bar.  A new prompt will come up – paste your URL from the image into that bar, and press Enter.  You will get a series of results that will show you what other web sources have used the same or similar images.  This will tell you if the image coincides with the date and location of an article, helping you determine if a news story is true or false.

State-sponsored or operated media may push their own agendas over factual information. Adobe stock image # 378620604
  • Don’t rely on state-sponsored media

In times of conflict, you have to be aware of the underlying agendas involved.  The easiest way to spread (mis)information to a large group of people is through state-sponsored media channels. Television and social media outlets like RT and Sputnik are well known for their ability to weaponize information, using false stories or twisted perspectives to promote a particular view of the world.  When facts may be harder to verify due to conflict, it is always best to look to multiple sources of information and see where they coincide and where they diverge in their coverage.

A good fact checking site can illuminate your knowledge quickly and accurately. Adobe stock image #310200999
  • Use fact-checking sources and think before you share

Many times, a fake news story has already been identified and debunked.  If you come across a story that seems suspicious (in any direction; too positive is as bad as too negative), use one of the fact-checkers certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).  Over 100 organizations throughout the world have signed on with the guidelines of the IFCN, which include rules for transparency, sourcing and eliminating bias in their reporting.  If you are checking a story which takes place in a nation other than yours, you may wish to look at fact-checks from that nation as well, using the IFCN list of fact-checkers.  At any time, however, if you suspect a news story is false, it is always best to avoid sharing it.

Sometimes the best thing you can do to get the best information possible is to stop and wait. Adobe stock image # 82800497
  • Wait

Time is the best fact-checking device, even during major events.  Reporters on the ground have a much harder time finding and verifying facts in areas of major crises, and it is usually after enough time has passed for someone to go to a site, interview a person with key knowledge or read through and analyze primary documents that the true facts about an event come to light.  As hard as it may be, stopping and waiting for more news to come in can be very good for sorting out real information.  While breaking news has been a boon to people across the globe for staying informed, it comes with its own drawbacks, one of them being the need to revise stories as new and more accurate information comes in.  It’s all right to pause and step back from the news when you need a break. 

As a general rule, fake news can cause problems ranging from family conflict to mental health issues.  To protect yourself and others around you from false information, these tips can help you stay on the right side of what’s happening in the world.  Have a question about fake news?  Want to know the differences among fake news, misinformation, disinformation and malinformation?  Interested in seeking out better news sources?  Ask Us! iueref@iue.edu or click this button:

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