Online news sites are a perfect resource for interesting articles. While those who watch the news on television are at the mercy of the scheduled stories, internet news allows curious readers to follow their own trains of interest to find a variety of intereting articles located all over the web. Along with the blessing of online news, however, comes a curse. It can be very difficult to tell whether an online news source is reputable.
Take, for instance, the famed situation that occurred in 2010 when Fox News presented an article written by parody news site The Onion as a genuine report. How can you tell what’s genuine and what’s not in the world of online news? Here are a few tips for sorting out truth from nonsense.
- Look at the headline. If it’s world changing, critically important sounding, but is appearing on a new site you’ve never heard of, chances are that it’s not exactly gospel truth. A headline claiming, “Cure for Cancer Found in Mountain Dew,” that’s featured on UFOreality.net is probably not one to take seriously. Still, once one person forwards it on and it hits social networking sites, all rationality is often thrown out the window. Many even share it without reading the whole article. If the headline is too good or even too awful to be true, it probably is.
- Notice the source. U.S. online news readers are notorious for not recognizing foreign tabloids. Though most of us know not to take news from gossip rags and sensationalist magazines seriously, we don’t know how to sort out which foreign sources fall into that category. Just as there are reputable and non reputable sources in the U.S., so it is in, for example, the U.K. Some tabloids very literally write fictional stories and post them to online news websites, so check the source before you forward it along.
- It’s probably bogus if the headline includes some sort of weirdly specific date for an impending disaster. Stories like these get passed around like the common cold. Remember the panic when a story was released insisting that all fish would be gone from the ocean by 2050? It was debunked within minutes, but not quick enough to stop it from reaching every corner of the internet. Headlines and studies like this assume that all trends continue into infinity, which, simply put, they don’t.
- Take note if the whole news story expounds on the results of one poll. Here’s the thing with polls. Unless they really are administered to a random sample, they’re biased, and most online news sources are counting on that. For example, administering a poll about gun control to users on the NRA website is probably going to produce some skewed results. If a news story has no content besides an explanation of some recent poll, think twice and consider the source.
- Take a second to do a little googling. Sites like Snopes are totally dedicated to debunking nonsensical internet claims. If you’re really feeling benevolent and notice a friend spreading a bogus story on social media, share the link that disproves it. The internet could use a little less foolishness.