How To Identify Fake News

By jjron – Own work, GFDL 1.2,

by Kevin Schoen  Published 2/21/2017

There was a blog on line this morning that would help in how to identify fake news. It seemed to be trying to disguise their page as a news report. I found it to be heavy on opinion and light on facts. There was no effort whatsoever to cite information sources or to document the use of multiple sources. One heading said “Impeach Donald Trump Now.” This is not news. More frightening was this readers comment: “….we have the proof so arrest him and impeach him already. Glad the Democrat’s are doing their job to bad the Republican’s still have their heads up their butts. Pile it out already. How much proof do you need.”

Many in the mainstream media regularly engaged in partial reporting in what looked like an effort to bolster the polls for Hillary Clinton. At one point Fox allowed Donald Trump to be on Fox for, a daily, almost hour long call in, to the exclusion of all the other candidates. The examples are too numerous to cover here.

To treat this subject honestly, we should recognize that all of our mainstream news sources have engaged in “Fake News” in so far as they have all engaged in reporting in ways intended to promote a particular world view, to the exclusion of others. That is not to say they don’t also do some legitimate reporting. So let’s agree that “Fake News’ is a behavior, not a particular organization.


Consider the slight of hand in the following analogy:

There was an apple tree on a fence line.

  • One reporter reports that on the left side of the fence there were overwhelmingly more apples in the tree, concluding his side of the tree is more popular, and hoping to attract readers from that side.

  • A second reporter reports that on the right side of the fence there were overwhelmingly more apples that had fallen from the tree, demonstrating that the right has many more apples involved in the natural process of things.

  • A third reporter reports that some mysterious force has been causing the tree to shrink, worrying many that their world resources are diminishing and that its a problem coming, most likely, from the other side of the tree.

  • Real news” reports that the apple tree this year, after pruning, produced a larger number of apples on both sides of the tree and that due to the right side being on the south of the fence, the apples ripened faster and fell a little earlier.

It is super important that you notice that you cannot get to the conclusions drawn in the “Real news” example by using the facts reported in any one of the first three. This brings up an extremely important observation: Omission and spin create alternate facts in peoples minds.

What of the people that read or watch these types of “news sources?” They are like conclusions looking for validating facts. They are far more likely to be from segments of our population considered extreme. They are likely to have their conclusions fixed as soon as they find “supporting facts,” which are rarely facts. They are highly inclined to confuse opinion with fact. Once conclusions are fixed You’d have to beat them with the jaw bone of an ass to get them to reconsider.

It is deeply disturbing how much fake news is out there. Even more disturbing is how many people out there are intellectually incapable of distinguishing the difference between an opinion blog and reporting by an actual journalist. I frequently get comments on the title of an article I wrote showing the person commenting did not even read the article to find out what the article was really about.

Real news is not an unsigned and undated article anymore than a signed dated article is real news. If under the article title it says “posted by”with a name and a date, it is an opinion blog entry. If it is a signed and dated article by an actual journalist that only considers one side of an issue or postulates a single position on a subject, it is highly likely you are reading propaganda, no matter who wrote it. Real news will offer you both sides and leave you to your own conclusions. Opinion bloggers are a pretty safe bet if they are up front that what they offer are opinions. Remember though,by definition, every “fact” has a corollary fact or set of facts, just like the apple tree analogy, and if you draw conclusions from the work of opinion bloggers, and look no further, you are a big part of the problem.

When considering how to identify fake news, please remember America is more politically polarized today because there are so many purveyors of propaganda, and because we are a lazy people who refuse to engage critical thinking skills. Such behavior creates demand for “Fake News.” Apparently “Fake News” makes us feel like we belong to a group of like “thinkers.” In conclusion, “Fake News” is the act of misreporting, under-reporting, over-reporting, misrepresenting ones credentials, propagandizing and misinforming with an intent to mislead or manipulate. On a whole other level of deception is when actors are able to have news they don’t want you to notice buried on page 28, section D, so you don’t notice it.

Apple, anyone?

3 thoughts on “How To Identify Fake News”

  1. When did “fake news” come to mean the same thing as “biased news?” Fake news was a phenomenon we witnessed during the election, wherein someone, e.g., in a basement in Belarus, simply made up a story – usually an absurdly sensational one – out of whole cloth and posted it online.

    Kevin, aren’t you talking about how to identify *biased* news here? There is a distinction between that and fake news, right?

    Other than that, nice work, my friend.

    1. Thank you, Michael. I believe that any reports/articles designed to engender a specific response in the reader falls into the category of “fake news.” “Fake News,” based on your definition, is outright lying. I add to that the intent to deceive. In my world, biased reporting can be deception without intent. That the Queen is having hemorrhoid surgery today is fake news because it is not true. So also is that her surgeon is a member of the opposition party fake news, designed to engender fear that stinky politics is in the air. 🙂

  2. Sometimes fake news isn’t created because of bias, it’s created because of laziness on the part of journalists. This happens across the internet like a bad game of “telephone”, where one journalist takes an opinion, a part of a truth, hearsay or even a comedy routine and either blindly repeats the news as gospel fact or they embellish on it. To this day I hear about the great Sarah Palin quote, “I can see Russia from my front porch.” What’s the problem with this? Isn’t it outrageous?! Sure, only it wasn’t Palin that said it… it was Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.
    Another example just recently spotted on social media: “Obama played 306 rounds of golf during his presidency, Trump has already played 108.” There’s no source, no citation, no byline but it still has the same impact as news for people that want to believe it. Apply some logic. I’m posting this comment on 2/23… there aren’t enough days (with good weather) since the inauguration for that many rounds of golf!
    Sure, there’s a high level of bias but there’s also a low level of skepticism when people see or hear something that plays right into their own biases. If we’re going to learn from anything it should be that we need to re-apply the concept that you, “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”

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