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. 

 

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.