How to beat fake news

Assume that everything you read is false.

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Everyone is looking for a way to defeat fake news. (And just to be clear, when I say fake news, I mean news that is demonstrably false. Not just something you disagree with…) We also now know the problem is amplified by Russian bots spreading divisive news on Twitter and Facebook.

In college, my first major was newspaper journalism. And even though I decided I didn't want to be a reporter, I still have a respect for journalism and believe it's a vital part of a functioning society. Fake news undermines one of the cornerstones of a healthy democracy.

If you want to combat fake news, here are some things to think about when you are cruising your timeline…

This story looks completely legit! Really? How do you know? Who wrote it? Is this a publication you are familiar with? Or a blog you’ve never heard of? Look at the sources. Do they even offer sources to support their "facts?"

But this headline is catchy! Did you actually read the article before liking it? Or worse, sharing it? The devil is often in the details. Maybe you should read those…

But I completely agree with it! Most fake news is written in a way that confirms your own bias. So especially if you agree with it, take a few minutes and double check that the story is accurate. If you feel so strongly about the topic, it shouldn’t take you any time at all to confirm it.

But I only need one source. I’m sure you think they are trustworthy, but if you only get news from one source, then you are a fool. And if only one unknown blog is reporting a major story, it’s a hoax. If there’s really a story there, trust me, more than one publication is going to be covering it. 

When was this published? Where did this happen? Look at the date. Is this post years old and someone has just now rediscovered it? Does it even have a date? And where did it happen? Fake posts are often light on the details, because once you know where it happened, you can fact check it easier.

But look at the awesome picture! Are you sure that picture accurately reflects the article? It’s probably a stock photo unrelated to the article to get you to click on it. Fake news always uses fake photos… because the “news” didn’t actually happen.

People I know liked and shared this! It must be true. Or they got tricked, too.

This is exhausting. I read so much news on social media. How can I check it all? That’s what the scammers are counting on. That you are too busy or lazy to spend a few seconds thinking critically.

The only way to defeat fake news is to think critically. Social media sites want you to react quickly — like, share, retweet — and then move on to consume more content. But to combat fake news, you need to slow down and don’t just react.

When you read something on the internet that dovetails perfectly with what you want to believe, question it. Before you get worked up and repost or share that content, ask yourself if you took the time to actually think about it and process it. 

Because everything you share is your responsibility, and if you share fake news, you are the problem. 

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.