I admit I already got used to be very skeptical with everything I read, but the truth is that it is very easy to believe in anything that shows up right in front of you in a news feed – why wouldn’t you? However, over time and with a little practice, it becomes easier to stop for a second and bring up the judgmental side. I find these 5 things very helpful to keep in mind, whenever I’m scrolling down any webpage:
- Nothing is ever 100% correct (or even 99% for what matters). Every point of view is subjective, and even scientific theories are really just that – theories. So whatever “fact” I am presented with I instantly assume there is a chance it might be wrong. It can make sense, maybe it also seems logical. But, who knows? Maybe next day, you find something new, and what was a fact yesterday is not really a fact anymore. It’s just evolution of knowledge happening, you kind of need to go with it and update your “fact database” :p
- Was it written in a rush? This is of particular importance in newspaper articles (usually online). I have come by some articles full of grammar mistakes, gender switches, misused acronyms and innovative names. One time I was familiar with an institution’s acronym, so I spotted the mistake easily. But that’s not how it generally goes. So, if by any chance you are curious to know if a newspaper/journalist is trustworthy, you can always google some acronyms and check if the whole thing adds up – maybe you will be surprised xD
- This brings me to another tip: Check the whole story, in different channels! Many tragedy/last-minute scandals go public and have follow up news that can last forever. This means sometimes there are updates to the same news every 5 min, and I find myself reading super contradicting stuff, written on the same day. So, the best tip is to follow the same story through different channels: reading on bbc, euronews and national newspapers, for example. Spotting similarities and inconsistencies also helps me get my own full-scope story.
- Does it reference the source of information? Ok, this is very scientist-like, but it really helps! Both in short and longer articles, what is most common is to skip completely the sources of information. How many times have you heard “a study on bla bla finds amazing new thing!” and it never says the institution that carried the study, or there is no mention to the actual place where the results of the study were published? This is specially alarming in health-related news, talking about new drugs or new treatments. If they don’t really give me numbers or link me to a paper/article where I can find the actual results of a survey/test, I immediately push that article to the “not sure I believe it” drawer. I already went on some searches for more info and the actual scientific papers, but many times the truth is that they didn’t even tested the drug and are already making it the best cure for cancer ever! Note: if it is an opinion-like article (like this one), there is usually no need for reference, just a curious mind with a judgmental side ready to kick-in.
- Finally – have fun! The “fact” is that no matter what you do you will always find weird post on social media or even news on “well-recognized” newspapers that seem so out of your mind ridiculous that all you have to do is laugh. At least your imagination is being fed :p
Many articles actually tip all these boxes and are still later found to hold wrong info or the new trendy word “alternative facts”. Oh well… xD Hope this helps you survive the Era of false news and awkward facebook posts :p