Do you know how to spot fake news? Follow these 4 easy steps to uncover it. When you read a news-based article try to apply this system. It is a great exercise to train your mind, and prevent the spread of misinformation!
Step 1 – Emotion
1.1 Avoid an emotional reaction
While reading a news article, the human brain activates an immediate emotional response triggered by the information processed. The emotional drive in these news posts can make you feel closer to the writer, sympathise with their point of view and even align your own view, and encourage you to share it with other people.
When you read this type of news, the first thing you need to do is prevent that emotional response from happening. That’s right – fake news plays with your emotions.
To avoid emotionally engaging with the article, you just have to stop and take a moment: step back and make a conscious decision not to let your emotions take over.
1.2 Evaluate your emotion
Now, let’s take into consideration the emotions triggered by the news article. If it has triggered a strong and immediate emotion, positive or negative, it is more likely to be fake news. In fact, fake news is built to unleash strong emotions that make you want to talk about it and share it. This is exactly what the writer of the fake news wants you to do: get excited about the content. Thus, be wary of news written in a very heated tone. Producers of serious news do not want to trigger immediate emotions in people, but want you to think and reflect on it.
1.3 Evaluate the type of emotion
You should evaluate the type of emotions you felt, and understand if they are:
- positive emotions, like hope, desire, amazement, wonder, gratitude;
- negative emotions, like anger, indignation, frustration, anxiety, worry, confusion.
Then try to score the emotion, from 0 to 5, according to its intensity. The higher the score, the more likely it is that the news is fake.
Step 2 – Identify the facts
Once you have taken into consideration emotion, it’s time to move to the next step. To evaluate whether the news is real, you need to identify all the facts: process them in your mind or write them down on a piece of paper, so you can verify them.
Step 3 – Check the facts
3.1 Research the information
Now it’s time to analyse the facts one by one, and for each statement you should check on the internet if it is plausible. Some information, especially if it is technical, may be difficult to understand; if so, it’s a good idea to put a question mark next to it.
3.2 Assigning a score of plausibility
Assign a score of plausibility to each statement, from 0 to 3. For example:
- Sentence A: 1
- Sentence B: 2
- Sentence C: 0
- Sentence D: 3
- Sentence E: 1
3.3 Parameter assignment TRUE/FALSE/AMBIGUOUS
For each statement, assign a value: TRUE if the score was 3, FALSE if the score was 0, and AMBIGUOUS if the score was 1 or 2. For example:
- Sentence A: 1 = AMBIGUOUS
- Sentence B: 2 = AMBIGUOUS
- Sentence C: 0 = FALSE
- Sentence D: 3 = TRUE
- Sentence E: 1 = AMBIGUOUS
3.4 Calculation of the percentage of plausibility
The percentage of plausibility is a percentage indicator, from 0% to 100%, which allows you to assess how plausible the news is. The higher the percentage, the more likely the news is real.
To calculate the percentage, you need to:
- Add up the scores for each sentence. In this case A+B+C+D+E = 1+2+0+3+1= 7
- Multiply the number of sentences by 3. Example: 5 * 3 = 15
- The first number is divided by the second: 7/15 = 46%
The sample analysed had a plausibility of 46%.
Step 4 – Final analysis
Check the final statement to determine if it is fake news
Normally, news articles have some form of final statement. You should identify which fact (A,B,C,D,E) is present in the final statement, and check if it is TRUE, FALSE or AMBIGUOUS.
- If there is one or more FALSE statements, the news is fake. Good job, you have uncovered it is fake news!
- If all the statements are TRUE, you can assume that the news is TRUE.
- If there is one or more AMBIGUOUS statements, you cannot assume the news is fake, but YOU MUST NOT SHARE IT because it is not safe. At this point, it is up to you to evaluate other elements such as the site where you read it, the author, etc..
Final plausibility score
- If you had a negative emotion score of 3, you should take 5% off the plausibility.
- If you had a negative emotion score of 4, you should take 10% the plausibility.
- If you had a negative emotion score of 5, you should take 20% the plausibility.
For example, if a sentence had caused you a lot of anxiety (4), instead of 46% the final plausibility score will be 36%.
What is this score for? This helps you understand how plausible the news article was. Remember that to understand if the news is fake, all you need to do is find a FALSE statement in the final assumption. Some statements are clearly false, full of errors or ambiguous elements. Others are very well constructed, that is they are quite plausible and tend to deceive us more easily.