How Do I Tell If This Is Fake News?

To anyone who knows me or follows me on social media, you know it’s been a mission of mine to improve digital literacy. A key aspect of this is how people discover, consume and share content in a pervasive communications world. In my 2015 TEDx talk I presented what I see as 3 essential skills for digital literacy. The first skill I identified is the ability to vet:

Learn how to do research. Know the difference between a primary source and a secondary source. Become more discerning in your content consumption. Develop a healthy level of skepticism.

“How do you go about vetting an article?”

I got this question from someone on Facebook recently. It was a sincere question by someone trying to navigate an increasingly complex digital landscape.

My answer included the following:

  • Check the source site. Is it a site you’re familiar with? Do you know it’s bias (left leaning, right leaning)?
  • Look at the rhetoric in the title. Are the the words factual, or are they metaphorically slanted, sensationalist, of editorializing? Basically, is it just click bait?
  • Check for references in the story. Are there any? Are they reputable sites? Are they properly citing the source or are they cherry-picking to prove their point?

Sounds like a lot of work, I know, but it’s worth the effort. And like any thing else, you get better (and it gets easier) the more you do it. It’s like checking the labels on the food you eat: after a while you know which is the good stuff which is the not so good stuff.

A few months ago my good friend Jill Soley, knowing how important this topic is to me, introduced me to Arjun Moorthy and CivikOwl. As is true for most startups, they went through a number of iterations before they found their product/market fit. The end result is a tool that I now use to not only help me walk through the steps above, but it helps me get a more balanced view of the issues. In the few months I’ve been using the Chrome extension it has already impacted how I see issues and challenged me to expand outside my “bubble” to see alternative viewpoints.

Congratulations to the CivikOwl team for the launch of their first product, a Chrome extension “that analyzes the sources in a news story for credibility and political diversity, and suggests the best stories from across the political spectrum on a topic.” Check them out on Product Hunt and take the Chrome extension for a spin for “A Smarter Way to Read The News.”

Disclosure: I have no financial interest in CivikOwl. I’ve just given them some advice. I admire the team and love the product.