Home – Fact-Checking News Research in the ‘Onion’ Era

Fact-Checking News Research in the ‘Onion’ Era

Posted on 12-02-2016 by Janelle Coates

 It’s not unheard of for TV shows—like Saturday Night Live—or parody news sites—like The Onion—to bend the latest headlines to their will for the sake of comedy. But recently, headlines have trumpeted a disturbing trend: the rise of deliberately misleading or even entirely fake news being accepted as fact. Social media has played a significant role in disseminating fake news—a point that was particularly apparent during the presidential election campaign. See how Nexis® and LexisNexis Newsdesk® help organizations capture a more accurate picture of what’s being said in print, online, broadcast and social media.


Stanford Identifies a Growing Problem with News Research

 According to researchers from Stanford University, more than 80 percent of students were unable to tell the difference between legitimate news and sponsored content. And we’re not just talking about credulous 13-year-olds. The study surveyed more than 7,800 students from middle school through college—and even college students seemed susceptible to accepting news content as trustworthy if a website featured “… high-quality design, links to traditional news organizations and well-written ‘About’ pages.”  Many students also did not question the motivation—and validity—of articles that appeared as sponsored content. Professor Sam Wineburg, lead author of the report, said, “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.”


It’s not just America’s youth that are being tripped up by fake news.  Journalism.org notes that a survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news on social media. What’s more—64 percent rely on a single site for news; 26 percent check news on two sites; and a scant 10 percent visit three or more sites for news. As a result, fake news tends to spread like wildfire which only increases the sense of legitimacy. After all, if everyone is saying it—or sharing it—then it must be true, right?


The problem came to a head in the last three months of the election season when, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis, “… the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.” The research noted that the fake news, mostly shared from partisan blogs and hoax news outlets, saw over 8.7 million shares and likes—exceeding performance of real news by more than a million.


Three Tips for Identifying Fake News

“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” We’ve all heard that expression, but with the rise of fake news—much of which looks genuine—we can’t assume anything. So what can you do? Factcheck.org offers these suggestions:


  1. Think a story sounds suspicious? Check it out on Snopes.com. We all know how quickly stories go viral, but a ton of shares doesn’t equate to facts. Snopes does a good job of identifying what’s true, what’s fake and what’s a little of both. As Snopes founder David Mikkelson wrote in an article last month, “The fictions and fabrications that comprise fake news are but a subset of the larger bad news phenomenon, which also encompasses many forms of shoddy, unresearched, error-filled, and deliberately misleading reporting that do a disservice to everyone.”
  2. Don’t get drawn in by click-bait headlines.  We know that the ‘Scrubbing Bubbles’ don’t really swirl around our bathtubs unassisted or that the ‘Mucinex monsters’ aren’t having a party in our sinuses, but for some reason, many news readers don’t use the same logic when it comes to provocative or incendiary news headlines—especially if they support a person’s own point of view. We need to approach headlines with the same skepticism we have for ads promoting products that will ‘change your life.’
  3. Verify the source. A large number of fake news sites fool people because they hijack a reputable news source URL, simply adding .co or .info at the end. They may even feature a website that looks amazingly similar to the real site. But just as you need to be wary of look-alike emails that appear to be from your bank or a retailer, you need to use caution when it comes to news sites. You can go to Snopes.com to see its list of known fake news websites, but it doesn’t hurt to check the questionable site further. For example, if the ‘Contact Email’ relies on a Gmail domain, chances are, it’s not a reputable source.


Of course, we’d be remiss in mentioning that better news research and analysis solutions are crucial. By using a solution that aggregates news and business information from around the globe—and supports media analysis to help you see trends in news coverage—you capture a more complete, accurate picture of what’s being said. And that’s a fact.


3 Ways to Apply This Information Now

  1. Read some of our other posts on how journalists are using LexisNexis tools for research and fact-checking.
  2. Check out our Nexis video on YouTube® to see how this powerful tool helps you weed out questionable sources.
  3. Share this blog on LinkedIn to keep the dialogue going with your colleagues and contacts. 

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