In this survey done by Associated Press, 47% of Americans said they have a hard time telling if something they’re reading is true or not.

Anybody can be fooled. I’ve been fooled before and probably will in the future. But, for the most part, I have a good sense of whether something I’m reading is credible or not. There are a few simple rules I followed that help me discern the difference between news and fake news. I think they could help you, too. Here are some things you can try that would probably help.

  • 1.) Is the source trustworthy?

Not “does the source reinforce what I already believe”. Rather, does the source have a reputation for accuracy? Do they cite sources that can be checked? Are THOSE sources trustworthy?

Also, making a mistake doesn’t necessarily make a source “fake”. Mistakes and errors happen to everyone. Credible sources acknowledge and correct their mistakes. If the mistakes are very large, expect people to get fired. Be wary of sources that NEVER acknowledge error.

  • 2.) Differentiate between “News” and “Opinion”.

Generally, “news” has meant “reporting of the facts” and “opinion” has meant “what different people think about those facts”.

This line has been blurred over the years but especially since the rise of the 24 Hour News Cycle and all-news all-the-time cable channels. Before the rise of cable, you got 30 minutes of local news and 30 minutes (maybe an hour) of national news on television. Much, if not most, of what airs on CNN, Fox and MSNBC is “opinion” not “news”. They usually don’t make an announcement before switching from a news segment to an opinion segment. You have to make an effort to tell the difference.

Most of the network (ABC,NBC,CBS) evening newscasts are “news”. If you’re watching someone on television and they’re shouting into the camera, that’s probably “opinion” programming (see “Hannity”; “Judge Janine”; “Cuomo”)

Making it even more difficult, many of the cable news channels mix elements of “news” and “opinion” into the same programming block (see “Fox and Friends”).

  • 3.) “New” vs. “Opinion”: The written word

The same principle applies to written, as opposed to television, sources.

Before the Internet era, newspapers typically published once a day. There would be a segment for “opinion” which would usually be clearly labeled: The “Opinion” or “Editorial” page(s).

Written word news is now a 24 hour, never-ending cascade of content. The format isn’t like a newspaper or magazine. Hard news, lifestlyle news and, yes, “opinion” all get added at the same time and it takes some effort to be able to recognize the difference. Here’s a link to a pretty good source on how to differentiate between “news” and “opinion”. (LINK TO: https://www.presspubs.com/white_bear/opinion/news-vs-opinion-the-difference-matters/article_b30cbd4e-c679-11e8-b9aa-83290bc927b3.html)

  • 4.) Make Sure You’re Not Reading “Satire”

This is a relatively new phenomenon. There are many websites (“The Onion” being one of the oldest and most famous) that present fake news items as humorous content.

Before sharing a headline on your social media it’s always a good idea to click the link itself. That will usually take you to the source. Most satirical news sites will have a disclaimer either in the masthead or in some less prominent location. Also, if you’re having doubts, check some of the other stories on the site and try to tell if they all seem…”funny”. I know that seems like a lot of effort to go through when you’re outraged by a headline and want to share it as quickly as you can but, trust me, it beats sharing an Onion story on your social media about how Nancy Pelosi just cancelled Social Security to pay for the impeachment (LINK TO: https://potatriotsunite.com/impeachbill/?fbclid=IwAR2XDTTe78GtGNDy2efATyaJz3WaHMwVniCmdzV1FFKy4VEkZWHSR0jw-oY) or that they’re making a sequel called “Titanic II:Jack Returns” (LINK TO: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/titanic-2-return-of-jack-real/).

5.) Memes are NEVER a Reliable Source of News

6.) Don’t be Afraid to Snopes It

Snopes (LINK TO: https://www.snopes.com/) is my go-to resource if I’m really stumped about something. There are going to be some people who say “Snopes has an agenda” or “Snopes made a mistake once”. Both of those may be true but it’s been my experience that Snopes is an extremely accurate and invaluable source for fact checking. Others that have very good reputations are https://www.factcheck.org/, https://www.politifact.com/, and https://www.poynter.org/category/fact-checking/. These are all excellent sources that get it right most of the time. If you go to these sites and they all cast doubt on your deeply-held convictions maybe it’s time to change you’re deeply-held convictions.