4 Ways to Tell if Information is Real or Fake: Advice from a Former Journalist

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Photo by Aditya Doshi,, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avdoshi/8612921803

When I was a daily newspaper reporter, I always had to navigate through multiple versions of a story before I learned what really happened.

We have a saying in journalism. It goes, “There are three sides to every story: side one, side two, and the Truth.”

The Truth usually falls somewhere between the first two sides, and when I reported the Truth, both sides frequently accused me of bias. That’s how I knew I’d done my job.

In today’s age of information overflow, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reading multiple stories and don’t know what to believe. This is causing rampant fear, confusion, and possibly poor decision-making.

When I shared some of the truth-finding strategies I used as a journalist with a dear friend after we discussed the Plandemic movie, she encouraged me to share my tips with the world. “Not many people know this stuff, Shari,” she told me. “Not everyone has a journalism degree, and I think these tips could really help a lot of people in today’s environment.”

So here I am, in hopes that I can help YOU navigate through the waves of information (and misinformation), thus landing on the Truth for yourself. Here are some of the basic building blocks that journalists use when investigating a story and getting down to the bottom of it:

1) Cross-Validation with Multiple Sources

Information should always be validated with a minimum of three independent sources to confirm its validity. As a journalist, you can never go with just one person’s story or perspective, no matter how viable it seems. You need to follow up and interview at least two more sources, check records or documents, and see if everything else backs up the story from your first source.

2) Attribution from Reputable, Primary Sources

Today, the moment I read an article, column, or blog post–or watch a video–where information is stated without citing a reputable and primary source, my radar goes off. THIS MIGHT BE FAKE!

In order to avoid slander and libel lawsuits, reporters must cite their sources. Otherwise, anyone can make any claim and it would be considered truth. Additionally, the sources must be:

  • Reputable. This means you cannot cite a psychic when making claims about a medical condition or the state of the economy. Instead, you would cite a doctor or an economist.
  • Primary. This means you cannot cite another article as your source, or a friend of the cousin who experienced the wrongdoing; the information needs to come directly from the person or entity.

3) Libel — The Accused are Given a Chance to Comment

How often have you read an article from Reuters or the Associated Press where it says, “_____ could not be reached for comment”? Reporters do this to avoid a libel lawsuit. They give the person or entity being accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to comment publicly before running the story. This is a common practice to remain within the bounds of law and avoid defamation, and any reputable news organization will follow it.

4) An Ulterior Motive or Agenda

People will try and use the media to push an agenda. Gee, ya don’t say?! But by this, I mean sometimes, a person has a beef with another person or entity, and his/her motivation for contacting the media is to “get back” at someone or something else (this is different than a legitimate whistleblower). Other times, a public relations representative is trying to sway public opinion in favor of his/her company, or a public policy that would benefit the company (lobbyists, anyone?).

As a reporter, I always had to be wary of someone’s motivation for contacting me with a potential story. This is also why cross-validation with multiple sources is so important in a balanced and well-researched news article.

The Bottom Line

I hope these basic journalism tips help you determine what’s correct and incorrect from all the information floating around the Internet and social media these days.

Remember: the intentional spread of misinformation can be just as dangerous as censorship.

(Shameless plug here: that’s a theme in my book!)

Don’t let yourself become a victim of misinformation. Keep your head on straight. I always tell people that facts drive journalism, while emotions drive propaganda.

If you found this helpful, I urge you to please share it with your friends and family!

Shari Lopatin headshot

 

*Shari Lopatin is a former award-winning journalist, mass communications professional, and author of “The Apollo Illusion,” a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. 

 

I Have a Right to Protect Myself and My Loved Ones, Too

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To all those angry protestors out there, yelling at people for wearing masks, refusing to respect reporters’ requests to stay six feet back, and screaming in the faces of police officers, I have a message for you:

I HAVE A RIGHT TO PROTECT MYSELF AND MY FAMILY, TOO. 

If I want to wear a mask in public, let me wear a mask. If I want you to stay six feet back, stay six feet back. After all, as of May 5, 2020, the CDC reports that COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has killed 68,279 people in the United States, and has infected more than 1 million. Protestors, you’re not the only ones with rights in this country.

I’m angry, and I’m sick and tired of these people getting the limelight. I’m not in the streets counter-protesting because I believe in the importance of staying home right now. I WANT my governor to keep the re-opening of my home state, Arizona, slow and steady, because it protects my rights as a worker. It also protects my senior parents.

And yes, protestors: I have every right to wear a mask and tell you to stay six feet back. I have a right to my safety, health, and life as well. If you don’t listen after I tell you to stay back, and you approach me in a rage against my will, don’t be surprised if you get an elbow to the chin.

I’m a 5-foot-3 woman in her late 30s, and I will not put up with people threatening me because they believe I’m somehow part of the problem for wearing a mask and adhering to social distancing guidelines. People are growing increasingly bold, like the story of this Texas park ranger who was pushed into the water for reminding people to stay six feet apart, or this Family Dollar Store security guard and father of six who was murdered for asking a store patron to wear a mask.

I’m also sick of the brazen gun displays at protest rallies. Spare me the “second amendment” argument. I support the second amendment and my right to own a gun to protect myself, too. Those guns at the protests are meant for one thing, and one thing only: to intimidate others.

If people want to believe in conspiracy theories, or that the request to wear masks is somehow about government control, that’s fine. But the moment those beliefs turn into threatening actions against me, my family, and my loved ones, the gloves come off.

For anyone thinking this piece lacks supporting evidence, I’m venting without attribution for a reason. Conspiracy theories, and anti-science/anti-fact sentiment, have seemed to grip our American society lately. Those who believe the virus is a fake cover for the government trying to control the masses cannot be reasoned with. And I refuse to try.

I think the lunacy deserves an equally loud counter voice. That’s this blog post. If you agree with me, amplify it. SHARE NOW.

Men: If you’re worried about women falsely accusing you of rape, work to change the culture

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There are a lot of good men out there.

  • My father, the retired elementary school teacher and feminist.
  • My boyfriend, the protective son of a single mother.
  • My former bosses and colleagues, who mentored and shaped me as a professional.

With the current political climate involving Kavanaugh and #MeToo, some men are concerned that coercive or vindictive women will weaponize this rightful movement to falsely accuse them of rape or sexual assault. Out of spite, or revenge, or anger.

I believe it.

I’ve been bullied by other women–groups of girls growing up, and later in the workplace. I once even had to file a harassment grievance against a female coworker. And guys, I’M A GIRL.

Yes, women can be vindictive, and I have no doubt some would be willing to wield today’s social power to “get back” at a perceived wrong (Rejected? Looked over for a promotion?). But does that mean we should continue blaming victims?

Here’s the problem.

For far too long, women have been doubted when they came forward. Law enforcement asking if they were drinking (what about the GUYS who were drinking? They get a pass?).

Society asking if their clothes were too revealing. Or if they were walking alone. Or if they put themselves in a dangerous situation.

ALWAYS THE WOMAN’S FAULT.

This culture, in turn, has created a society where women are frequently scared to come forward. When they do, doubt is often cast over their testimony. We then ask, “Is He innocent? Or is She a victim?”

By regularly blaming the victim or doubting her story, we’ve created a societal culture of hearsay. As long as this culture exists, women will fear being attacked, and men will fear false accusations.

The solution: change the culture (and men need to lead the way).

My message to all men who are genuinely fearful of false accusations is this: rather than complaining about it, begin leading the change in our society.

Start believing women. Start standing up for them. Start giving women the benefit of the doubt when they confess a dark, long-held secret to you. And then, advocate for them.

Women are screaming in America right now because we’ve been silenced for way too long. We’ve been scared for way too long. We’re fed up. The men in power who refused to listen to us will not start now.

But maybe, just maybe, they will listen to you–another man. 

None of us want to live in a country reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where accusations are brought against another without evidence, and innocent people die without proof of their crime.

But we cannot live in a Crucible-free world when the guilty are regularly protected by the powerful. Only after our culture changes, and women feel safe coming forward early on (when their testimony can make a difference in criminal court), can we begin to charge the guilty, and protect the innocent.

So men, we are watching. We are waiting. We want you to join us, so ALL of us can feel safe in our homes, in our lives, and in our society.

* Thanks for stopping by. My name is Shari Lopatin, and I tell stories that matter. After beginning my career as an award-winning journalist, I recently published my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion. If you liked what you read, consider signing up for my Readers Club email list!

 

 

Voting is Your Rallying Cry, Your Middle Finger, Your Roar

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Aug. 28, 2018 was Primary Day in my home state of Arizona. This is me after voting.

As a writer, author, and American, I believe so strongly in the power of voicing one’s opinion beyond words.

Yesterday was Primary Day in my home state of Arizona. And I feel the need to say this, to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.

The will of the people is heard one way, and one way only–by the vote. If you’re discontent with the current state of affairs within your city, your state, or your country, the voting booth is where you can affect change. Your vote is your rallying cry, your middle finger, your roar.

Do not shy away from the power that shimmers deep inside you, even if you doubt its own grit and force. Make it heard. Make it known. November is just a few months away.

“Don’t boo. Vote.”

4 Ways YOU Can Avoid Russian Influence in the Next U.S. Election

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As a former newspaper reporter, and with the recent 13 indictments of Russian nationals who infiltrated our political system during the 2016 U.S. elections, I’d like to offer some advice on how YOU can personally avoid Russian influence during the 2018 U.S. mid-terms. In case you haven’t heard, the FBI warned they would most likely attempt interference again.

I am offering this guide based on knowledge I obtained from my college degree (journalism), as well as my past profession in the same field. My goal is to help U.S. voters come together, whether liberal or conservative, and ensure our political process is truly OURS. I do encourage you to share this post if you find it helpful.

1) Beware of Political Memes (the new propaganda)

First of all, whether you lean right or left, DO NOT SHARE POLITICAL MEMES. Memes are the new propaganda, and propaganda plays into our EMOTIONS, not our rationale. Whether you are liberal or conservative, it is easy to fall into this trap if a message plays to your values or belief system. The Russians who infiltrated our political system used social media and inflammatory memes in many cases.

2) Stick to Legitimate News Stories

Unlike a political meme, a LEGITIMATE NEWS STORY will play to the facts and will appeal to your RATIONALE. Even editorials or opinion columns will cite proven facts as backup to the writer’s viewpoint.

3) Know Real News vs. Fake News

How can you tell REAL NEWS from FAKE NEWS?

  • Follow a variety of reputable news sources from both the right and left. For example, you may follow The Nation, but also The National Review. You may follow the New York Times, as well as the Wall Street Journal. I recommend picking five (5) publications. Scan them all regularly. If you see certain, factual trends being reported, they are true.
  • In journalism, this fact-trend tactic is called VALIDATION. The rule of thumb is to never write an article with less than three (3) sources. If you receive a claim from one source, you must validate it with a minimum of a second source to confirm its truth.
  • Look for ATTRIBUTION in your news stories or social media posts. True journalists always cite their sources of information, and the sources should not be other publications. They must be PRIMARY SOURCES. In other words, the information should not have come from a third-party medium or individual.
  • The only time a journalist will protect his or her source is in the case of ANONYMOUS PROTECTION. This is granted when the person leaking information is doing so in the best interest of the public’s right to know, but that individual may face severe consequences, whether legal or otherwise, for doing so. This is protected under the FIRST AMENDMENT, and is vital to our country’s checks and balances.

4) Don’t Trust Inflammatory Language

Beware of INFLAMMATORY LANGUAGE. I am not talking about your friend who ranted on Facebook out of anger or frustration, or even the grieving parents of a child who was shot at school. I am talking about emotional, inflammatory statements made by individuals YOU DO NOT KNOW OR RECOGNIZE, and whose statements lack attribution, validation, or any of the other points I mentioned above.

LET’S KEEP OUR AMERICAN POLITICAL PROCESS SAFE FROM OUTSIDE INFLUENCES!

Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by propaganda this upcoming election cycle. Vote how you want to vote, based on facts and correct information. PLEASE SHARE to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., if you want to help spread the word.

An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

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Photo courtesy of Sage Ross via Flickr

NOTE: After working in healthcare communications for eight years, this is a subject I felt compelled to write about publicly in light of recent political developments. I’d initially written this letter in January, but refrained from publishing it because of my career. The time has come to speak out, however, so I feel the need to publish this disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post, and on this blog as a whole, are my own and do not represent any other person, business, or entity.  

An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

Dear Vice-President Mike Pence,

I read your quote from the March for Life event on Jan. 27 this year in an article from The Atlantic, “We will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America.”

I’m glad to hear you say that, because this opens the door to let Congress know we want health care for all.

Even after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, 29 million Americans went without health insurance in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015” report. This means nearly 30 million people could not access or afford treatment for conditions ranging from a sinus infection, to a heart attack.

Before the ACA, however, it was much worse. In 2008—during the days of pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps—nearly 16 percent of the U.S. population went uninsured, compared to only 9.1 percent in 2015 (source: U.S. Census Bureau).

If we’re going to talk about restoring a culture of life, let’s start with this, because many people are forced to choose between paying for their food or paying for their medicine. I’m one of them, having agonized over whether to visit the emergency room and risk bankruptcy, or stay home in a potentially life-threatening situation.

In one case, while I was studying journalism in college, my father—a music teacher—could no longer afford to keep me on his health insurance. Before I could find another plan, I became sick with mononucleosis and needed treatment. Yet, no doctor or clinic would see me because I didn’t have insurance. At the same time, insurance refused to cover me because of my pre-existing condition.

More recently, a family member—who would prefer to remain anonymous—may be forced to leave retirement simply for employer health benefits. She is a retired teacher and a type 2 diabetic who receives her health insurance through the Federal Exchange. However, with Congress’s plans to repeal the ACA, she’ll be forced to work full-time because she can’t afford the state’s $600-per-month premium and she’s too young for Medicare. Once the ACA is gone, she will have a “pre-existing condition” once again.

You see, Vice-President Pence, in my world, life matters too, which is why health care is a right and not a privilege. I hear politicians preaching their morals time and time again, but their actions do not reflect their words. I’m going to make it easy.

The time has come to get serious about a universal or single-payer system that leverages public-private partnerships. This will ensure cost control of sky-rocketing drug prices, allow practitioners to concentrate on treating and healing patients, and still offer businesses opportunities in the private sector. France demonstrates an exemplary standard of this model, so much that the World Health Organization ranked them as number one in the world for health systems.

I’ve worked in journalism, media and communications for more than 10 years, of which eight were spent in healthcare communications. I have seen this issue from all sides and am confident when I say, this proposal could be a real solution.

I am ready to help restore a culture of life in America, Vice-President Pence. The question is, are you?

How Entering the Obama Era from Israel Helps Me Come to Terms with Trump

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I wrote this narrative/op-ed on Jan. 20, 2017–the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated. I submitted it to a couple of publications, but it was never accepted fast enough to be timely. I hate to see it go to waste, and therefore decided to publish it here. I thought some of you might enjoy the read or perhaps find it insightful.

How Entering the Obama Era from Israel Helps Me Come to Terms with Trump

Written by Shari Lopatin on Jan. 20, 2017

Eight years ago today, I sat crammed into a tiny Tel Aviv hotel lobby with 30 Jews who were strangers days before, and together, we watched Barack Obama become the President of the United States of America.

When we boarded our El Al flight to Israel about a week prior for our Birthright trip, we’d left our country still swimming in the Bush era. I was the only Jew from Arizona and felt nervous at first, knowing not a name in our group. But after riding camels through the desert and sleeping in Bedouin tents scattered throughout the Negev together, we’d become like family, and I watched alongside these newfound friends 6,700 miles away as our country’s tides changed on Jan. 20, 2009.

I come from a state that leans conservative and Christian. I’d never been surrounded by others who believed as I do, or voted as I do, or survived anti-Semitism like I had. It not only felt safe to cheer as I watched Obama take his oath of office, but electric and freeing, like the adrenaline of a raging river or, as one of my travelmates said, “winning the World Series.”

For us, this was our first political victory. When I’d cast my virgin ballot at age 18, the year was 2000 and George W. Bush had won. Then, 9/11 rocked our nation and although I’d supported our involvement in Afghanistan, I’d protested Iraq from the beginning. Somewhere deep in my bones, I knew this war would change the future of the U.S. and the world.

The taste of triumph, I’ve learned, has a sweet but perilous flavor. I was young and hopeful when Barack Obama took office, and over the coming years, I flourished. The Affordable Care Act—known to many as Obamacare—granted me freedom to leave a full-time job and afford an individual health plan while I started a business. The tax credit for first-time homebuyers in 2009 allowed me the financial flexibility to buy my first house.

Under Obama, I became Middle Class America. I prospered. And I’m dang thankful for it.

But as I said, the taste of triumph has a sweet, yet perilous flavor. I grew used to winning, and in my elation, became numb to the fury developing in the underbelly of our country. Not everyone moved forward like I did, and in their anger, many turned to a man who manipulates emotion to gain power.

Today, that man stands in the spot Obama did as I watched from a boxed television set in Israel, and I find myself feeling alone again. In my despair, I close my eyes and like a wind funnel sucking me through time, I fall into that scrunched Tel Aviv hotel lobby eight years ago, surrounded by rejuvenation and faith and acceptance.

That moment, though fleeting, will survive through eternity in all of us, and I tell myself—even as we enter an era of uncertainty and darkness—Yes We Can.

Shari Lopatin is a writer, journalist and storyteller with more than 10 years in media and communication. She writes both fiction and non-fiction and prefers to concentrate on the micro and macro effects of social issues.

Martin Shkreli Looks Like a Sith Lord in this AP Photo

I first saw it on my Facebook feed today from a New York Times article. And I couldn’t help but notice, Martin Shkreli kinda looks like a Sith Lord in this Associated Press photo … doesn’t he?

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And considering today is the first FULL day that Star Wars is open in theaters, I call this #winning for the AP!

Enough About Donald Trump, What About Burundi?

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire, 1993 (courtesy of CDC)

I get it: Donald Trump is the leading front-runner in the Republican primary who spouts off whatever comes to mind and is a former reality T.V. star.

But amidst the American media’s love affair with Trump, other important world issues are being overlooked. Lately, I’ve been seeing articles pop up about potential genocide in Burundi.

Doesn’t Burundi deserve our attention, too?

According to a Dec. 15 article in the Washington Post, the violence has forced more than 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

Reflections of Rwanda

Burundi’s population is split primarily between Hutu (80 percent) and Tutsi (19 percent). For anyone that knows their history, they’ll recall the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered (thanks for the actual number, Baltimore Sun).

Remember the movie, “Hotel Rwanda?” Yeah folks, that could happen again.

Yet every time I open my Facebook news feed, all I see is “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Meanwhile, Burundians are screaming for the major world powers to pay attention to their country.

I have a friend who survived the Bosnian genocide that started in 1992 and she can tell you it took years before the world intervened. Meanwhile, she lost close family members and friends.

Time to Switch Our Focus?

Of course we need to watch what Trump says and speak out if we disagree, but should our media be giving the man so much attention, that other world events—like potential genocide—aren’t being reported with the same vigor?

I’m a former journalist and I’m asking you: what the heck happened to my beloved profession?

How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?