Knowing the difference between real and fake news.

Peyton Finnegan, Courier Staff

Knowing what’s going on in one’s community, country and the world is important. But with so many different ways to get information about current events, from social media sites like Facebook and Snapchat, TV channels like NBC and Fox News, newspapers like The New York Times and your local paper, not to mention from friends and family, it’s hard not to be bombarded with tons of unreliable information. How do you decide what to believe, what to question and what to just plain ignore? Do you have confidence in your ability to distinguish between fact and opinion?

Every time you go online, people are competing for your attention. Friends, strangers, businesses, political organizations, charities and news websites all serve up a constant stream of eye-catching pictures, videos and articles, wherever you might go looking for information. However, in the race to catch your eye, not all of these media sources feel like they have to tell the truth, and you can’t always rely on social media platforms to filter out the falsehoods. The result is fake news, stories that are specially designed to mislead or deliberately misinform people.

This semester, I am in an English class and our professor is adamant about distinguishing fake news from the truth. In this course, we identify fake news from the truth and it is an especially useful skill. The world we live in today is not as concerned about finding the truth as they are about getting a reaction out of the public. This makes it especially difficult to identify what is fact and what is fiction.

In this class, we also learned about different biases people have. One bias in particular aids in explaining why some people are inclined to believe these fake news stories: confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when your existing beliefs cause you to believe something that might not even be true. For instance, if you are a Hillary Clinton supporter and you are scrolling through social media and see an article about how Donald Trump spit on a puppy, you might be more inclined to believe the article because of your political beliefs. While this is an extremely dramatic example, fake news stories like this circulate regularly. During the 2016 presidential election, fake news stories were circulated about Clinton and a good amount of people believed them just because of their confirmation biases.

To truly know the difference between fact and fiction, you have to investigate the sources that present these claims. Reliability of sources and extremely important when determining whether or not a source is presenting factual information or just fake news. For instance, if you just see news on social media, you absolutely need to do more research into the topic before making a judgment on whether or not to believe it. While the information on social media could be true, it can also be extremely exaggerated or fabricated. We live in a generation where it is absolutely vital to investigate the information we come across online.