7 ways to recognize and deal with fake news

The Trump administration is fond of complaining about fake news.

But what is fake news? What is the what is the difference between fake news and news you don't like? And how can you recognize fake news when it pops up on your Facebook timeline?

MPR News host Kerri Miller talked to Vox media reporter Jeff Guo and NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen for strategies on navigating fake news and the modern media landscape.

1. When you say 'fake news,' make sure you know what you're talking about:

"When we're talking about fake news, there's opinion — that's sometimes part of it. And there's actual fake news like all of the Seth Rich conspiracy theories that Sean Hannity likes to talk about that's actually, actually fake. And then there are other things like mistakes that reporters make... I think that one challenge is that when people use the term 'fake news' it basically means what you want it to mean." — Jeff Guo

2. Fake news plays on emotions. Watch for stories that get you emotional:

"A lot of this fake news complex is centered on emotion. And thinking about emotional responses to news is maybe the best way to analyze how this fake news spreads; why people keep believing it; why people love to read about it ... stuff that tends to go viral has to be sharp in some way. It has to be emotionally resonant ... it's about people who really dislike Trump, who see something that confirms their emotional response to Trump. They think he's not bright. They think he's rude, right? And so these are the kinds of things that implant themselves in people's minds and that tend to travel in our news ecosystem." — Guo

3. Know some strategies to recognize fake news:

"Facebook itself has a pretty good checklist for how to assess stories and their credibility ... like, 'Does this story make you laugh?' which sort of gets back to this issue of confirmation bias. Right? You're looking for something that embarrasses the other side. That perhaps is maybe a tip-off that it's not a credible story. You can look at the URL, look at the source. There are fake news stories that come from news sites that are sort of made to look just almost like a credible news site, but they add an extra word or they have a different domain name in the URL that is a tip-off that it's not a legitimate site...folks really need to take a story and assess it and say 'Is this credible? Where are the sources? You can go to the original website if you want. Yes, it's a lot of work, but I think it's worth it." — Jensen

4. Recognize the difference between opinion, entertainment, and hard reporting:

"One thing that we have to deal with when we're talking about the modern media ecosystem is the entertainment wing... I would put Alex Jones and a lot of other right wing pundits on that side. I would put some of the late night Fox News news hosts on that side and I would put some of the evening MSNBC hosts on that side. Part of their job is to be entertaining. Part of their job is to help you understand the news, and part of their job is to help you think through different kinds of arguments. I know people who watch Fox News who tell me that they're very liberal but they watch it anyway because a) they want to understand how other people think and b) they want to think about whether or not their deeply held beliefs are vulnerable to criticism." — Guo

5. Figure out the ethical and reporting standards used by a news outlet to decide whether or not it can be trusted:

"There are trusted news sources out there. You can sort of go through and figure it out. You can figure out if your news source has an ethics code. You can figure out if your news source has a clear corrections policy, if it has transparency as to who the funding is and transparency as to who leads this organization, that they do fact checking. At some point I think we just have to say consumers need to take responsibility for their own news sources and stick with the ones that they trust ... consumers have to make decisions about their own feeds." — Jensen

"It's very important for people to understand all that the media does when they report on a story. There's a lot of talk about the media using anonymous sources — the president calls them fake sources — but maybe the media doesn't do a good enough job of explaining to people what its processes are, how it tries to combat bias, how it tries to be fair to people. People don't get to see all the stories that get killed by editors because they don't have enough sources, they don't have strong enough sourcing to go forward." — Guo

6. Learn to recognize media bias and get your news from a variety of sources:

"One way [to be smarter about looking at the news] is looking at the stories that outlets choose to cover. If there's one story about an issue, looking to other outlets to see how they cover it. To see whether or not they share the same sources. Sometimes one outlet will credit another outlet, will just take that reporting and package it in a different way. And looking at how the information spreads among news producers, among stations like NPR and outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post. I think that's one way to think about how to consume news." — Guo

7. Think about who you trust and why: recognize your own bias:

"The power of trust and the power of relationships. ... The most important thing to change someone's mind, the most important factor is whether or not this person is connected in some way. Because if it's a friend, if it's a family member, if it's a politician on 'your side' — if it's someone that you trust telling you something. If they're out there correcting fake news. If they're out there speaking, that helps a lot more than some fact checker somewhere saying , 'No, no, no.' It's an emotional response. Sometimes it's not very logical.

"When you try to rise above the day-to-day partisan squabbles and you think about what is happening to the nation, you know, what kinds of political institutions are eroding, I think it gives you a very different perspective." — Guo

Correction (July 20, 2017): An earlier version of this story included a quote from a guest with incorrect information about the controversy surrounding a Martin Luther King, Jr. bust in the White House. It has been removed.

This show is part of our summer media series. To hear more, you can listen to our installments on media bias, fake news, anonymous sources and leaks, how MPR makes editorial decisions, a roundtable discussion on the media and the influence of conservative media.

Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

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