How to Discern if Sensational News is Fake or Not
In today’s highly connected world, we spend an inordinate amount of time online. Daily, we stumble upon all kinds of sensational news. Some may be true while others we find out later to be false. In our excitement, we may even have forwarded such sensational news to our circle of family and friends without realising that they are fake. Oops!
Unlike traditional print media which usually goes through the purview of fact-checkers and editors, a huge majority of online content is self-published. As such, almost anyone with online access can publish just about anything without going through the editorial process, such as personal blogs and lobbying sites. Therefore, a good guideline to follow is to take extra precautions when it comes to online content.
Wise and Discerning Mind
In 1 Kings 3:16-28, there is a story about King Solomon hearing a case involving two prostitutes who each had just delivered a baby. One of the babies died. The mother of the dead baby swapped with the living one of the other prostitute. An argument ensued and the case was brought before the king. Solomon could not tell who was telling the truth, so he issued a shocking command to cut the baby in half and give one half to each woman.
In doing so, he was able to determine the baby’s true mother – it was the one who pleaded with him not to kill the boy, but give it to the other woman instead (v.26)! Here, King Solomon has provided us with a fine example of using a wise and discerning mind to determine what is fake and untrue.
In similar fashion, we can examine each piece of online news we read to discern if it is fake or not. Before forwarding or sharing anything online, it is good practice to do due diligence and verify the facts.
Discerning Fake News
While not all sensational news are fake, more often than not, fake news are purposely sensational. They are meant to trigger readers’ emotions so that the news becomes viral.
Whether we realise it or not, chances are we encounter fake news online on a regular basis. We may inadvertently click links on unsolicited emails which lead to fake news websites. In addition, with the ease of forwarding unverified stories on messengers such as WhatsApp, and reposting on social media like Facebook, sensational news goes viral quickly. If we are not careful, we get caught in the wave of fake news, and even help perpetrators by sharing and forwarding false information.
How do we guard ourselves against falling into the trap of fake news? There are many telltale signs to guide us:
- Watch out for photos that have been altered. Upload such suspicious photos to Google Images to determine if such images have been used previously in other contexts.
- Just as images can be tampered with, the same applies to content. Articles may be repurposed to support a different context altogether through minor changes to the original text.
- If an article uses the name of famous celebrities, wealthy tycoons, big corporations, top secret agencies, global organisations, big brands, important government ministries, even central banks, be extra careful! It is using the halo effect to influence and reinforce the reader’s acceptance of the article. The presence of big names lowers down one’s guard to be more open.
- Often, fake news mixes truths with false information. With the help from search engines, it is easy enough to verify the source by searching for related articles or key search terms which correlate to the suspicious article. Sometimes putting the exact article title in the search box will bring up some surprising results.
- For websites, take an overall look at the structure. Does it have an “About Us” section? Who owns the website? This may give us a clue on the purpose of the site.
- What are the kinds of articles posted on the website? Is there a general theme? The overall “feel” may give us a hint of whether the article is authentic or not.
- Are there too many ads distributed all over the page? If yes, that sounds like a site made just for generating ad income.
Additionally, there are resources available to help us. There are many websites that cover internet hoaxes, urban legends, and questionable stories in various countries.
To Share or Not To Share?
What if we are too busy or not knowledgeable enough to verify the facts? Perhaps, we tried to investigate but could not find anything conclusive. Then, it is only sensible to refrain from forwarding sensational stories, no matter how tempting it is to do so. As 1 Peter 5:8 states, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Perpetrators of fake news seek the unwary to devour.
Lastly, we should take heed to what the apostle Paul had admonished, “…be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise… because the days are evil.”
About the Author
Among the different vocations he has had, Wee Siong Tan was a door-to-door salesman, a self-learnt IT specialist, and a seminarian. Now, he contributes to digital marketing, theological review, and church ministry in Our Daily Bread Ministries Malaysia. He thrives on coffee, commentaries, and cinema.
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