By Mark Isaiah David
In a move that shocked the nation, Former President Benigno Aquino Jr. stepped forward and called President Duterte’s decision to lay the remains of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani as ‘brave’ and ‘revolutionary’.
No, he didn’t. Of course not. You know it’s impossible. The sun would exhaust its Hydrogen before PNoy would likely praise that move. But you still stopped from browsing the paper or clicked the link as you scrolled through your Facebook feed when you saw the headline. See, that’s the first thing about fake news – they have that devilish ability to reel you in even if you should know better.
2016’s word of the year, as put forth by The Oxford Dictionaries, is ‘Post Truth’ – a term that means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. No matter your political beliefs, this is a troubling development. We live in an environment where facts are blatantly ignored, just so we can support our own biases (we all have them).
Indubitably, this is something we must all fight against. Lying to others can be useful; lying to yourself is idiotic and disastrous. To help us sift fact from fiction, here are a few signs to know whether what you’re reading is fake:
Headline is Unbelievable
That’s not an exaggeration – if the title of the article is too farfetched (like the one in this article), it’s probably bogus. If the headline is too hyperbolic (‘Aquino Hailed As Least Corrupt President In History’) or blatantly contrary to verified facts (‘Marcos Wealth Declared ‘All Clean’), then you should stay away from that article. And while not everything in the article may be a lie, the fact that the writer is using the superlative form (‘most epic’, ‘best ever’) signals shoddy writing.
Exceptions can be found, of course. However,the fact that the title is trying incredibly hard for you to click it should be a warning to any reader. If the title has ALL CAPS, or pretends to be the only bearer of truth (‘The REAL DEAL between…’, ‘What REALLY HAPPENED at the elections’), then you should be wary. Facts don’t need to be shouted; and one hallmark of veracity is that you can confirm it from several sources.
This is one of the most common fake news. Content is reused, repackaged, and recontextualized to generate the desired effect among its readers. Check the date of the article. Content that is re-used by unscrupulous parties to generate clicks abound in the internet. Remember that photo of a bloodied policeman that surfaced after the horrifying video of P03 Franklin Kho repeatedly running over rallyists with a police vehicle ignited the anger of people in social media? That photo was taken from several years ago – it was reused not to inform (as is the goal of news) but for political gain (propaganda). While the content is technically not fake, resharing it took it out of context, and was thus used to misinform.
Mind the Source
Established newspapers don’t claim that they are the only reliable news sources, but there’s a reason why it’s more logical to believe them: they have more resources, and they have more to lose if they mess up. Big media corporations can afford to hire reporters, researchers, fact-checkers, and editors. There’s a stringent process that a story goes through before it gets published. Consequently, reputable newspapers also have more to lose if they are proven inaccurate. They can lose advertisers and readers. People can lose their jobs. The inverse is true with fly-by-night blogs and other ‘news sources’ on the web. They typically don’t have the resources to have checks and balances in their publication process, and they could just as easily take down their page and make a new one if they mess up. If the article you’re reading isn’t from a media organization known for their accuracy, it’s best if you double-check their content.
On a related note, if you’re reading an article that doesn’t use primary sources, question it. For example, if a news article says Google was found guilty of hacking Apple but doesn’t contain any quote or statement from either Google or Apple, that’s a strong sign the story is unreliable.
Body Doesn’t Fit Headline
If you were enticed to read something due to a catchy headline but the body of the article doesn’t match what the title claims, congratulations: you’ve found shady news. If the title has a quote (“De Lima: Duterte hit on me”) that you don’t find on the rest of the article, or if the title has very little to do with the actual story, that’s fake news.
Disregard the Blatantly Biased
Taking a position in a story isn’t automatically wrong; actual journalists would even tell you that it’s nearly unavoidable – even the placement of facts, after all, affect even the most objective of stories. There is no such thing as an unbiased person. What is wrong is if the reader accepts all slanted ideas and angles as the total truth.
If you really care about facts and not propaganda, you would avoid blatantly slanted sites. At the very least, be very suspicious – especially when you’re reading something you agree with; that’s when your guards are down, after all. If you’re reading articles from a site with the title ‘Duterte Die Hard Fans’ or ‘Mar Roxas is The Only Savior Of This Nation’, then you know full well that no matter what happens, the site will commend the actions of their object of admiration regardless of whether their actions were right or wrong. If you want to keep living with your biases, that’s your choice – but at least have the maturity to admit it. Disregard any pretension that what you’re reading gives you the whole truth.
Photos Deliberately Make the Subject Look Bad
No one – especially those that are in the public eye – can look good all the time. It’s impossible. Through the sheer number of photos, public personalities are guaranteed to have unflattering photos taken of them. Regardless of how heroic or noble is the activity that a person may be doing, a momentary blink or yawn captured by the camera can make it appear that the person on the picture is a lazy, inconsiderate snob.
If the article you’re reading has photos of former President Noynoy Aquino looking moronic or President Duterte looking like he’s about to spray your whole family with bullets, you can safely stop reading. No reputable site, no professional news agency will deliberately use cruel and fault-finding images. If the article you’re reading needs to use underhanded techniques to convince you of their argument, then it’s a safe bet that their evidences are thin and their claims are baseless.
It’s the same thing when articles use derogatory names for the personalities they are vilifying. If the site you’re reading calls former President Aquino ‘abnoy’ or Bongbong Marcos as ‘Bobong Marcos’, then you know right away you can’t expect these sites to be trustworthy. After all, if they can’t be bothered to be professional or ethical, why should they care for the accuracy of their claims?
The growth of fake news is a direct result of readers not bothering to verify what they have read before they share it, or worse, not caring if something isn’t true as long as it supports their own point of view. Sharing wrong things is harmful not just because it fosters misinformation, but it also demolishes your credibility and makes you look foolish.
If you’re done consuming baseless writing or lying to yourself just to feel good, verifying news articles is an uncomplicated undertaking. Just make the effort to do be vigilant, and to check Google if something seems iffy to you.