Fake News: How To Make Sure Your Research Papers Are Fact, Not Fiction

Posted by Johnathan on 8/9/17 7:00 PM

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I’m going to tell you something embarrassing: I… sometimes… get my news from Facebook! I know, I know, I’m supposed to be better than this. I’m a tutor! I should be waking up three hours early to read every single paper from around the world while looking through a reference dictionary. I’m not perfect.

So, when I saw a story a friend had shared about Facebook shutting down AI that became too intelligent, I shared it myself with the caption “why we should be worried about Artificial Intelligence.” I was confused, upset, and… super wrong. Luckily, I caught my mistake (after more than a few friends pointed it out)! Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to make sure misleading or out-right fake news doesn’t infect your Facebook feed or research papers.

1. Does this sound right to me?

Sounds simple, but the first thing you should do when confronted with any piece of news is run a credibility check. In other words, ask yourself “does this sound believable?”

2. Did I read the article or just the headline?

Headlines are supposed to be exciting! That’s how websites get clicks and newspapers get sold. They’re also only one sentence intended to introduce, not summarize. Make sure to read the whole article or you might miss what the author is actually talking about.

3. Do I trust this source?

Here’s where you find out how reliable the source is. Have you read news from this website or paper before? How long has it been around? If they’re wrong, do they admit their mistakes and retract articles? The New York Times and Washington Post, for example, have a sterling long-standing reputation for accurate reporting. Newer sites such as DailyInfoBox.com do not. Politifact has a running list of all the fake news websites here: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2017/apr/20/politifacts-guide-fake-news-websites-and-what-they/ 

4. What do other news sites say about this?

We all make mistakes, even the most seasoned journalists… and our friends who share news on Facebook. Make sure you can back up a story with at least one or two other good sources.

5. Is this source biased?

This one might require a little bit of research. Find out who the author is. Is that person trying to promote a specific cause or sell something? Who owns the website? Are they trying to promote a specific cause or sell something? 

Breitbart News, for instance, is a right-wing news website whose CEO worked directly for Trump. Therefore, anything that they’ve written about Trump or politics at large should be read with this in mind. This isn’t just an issue on the right, either. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recently released a video of a cat being abused to rally donations to their cause. The only problem is that the cat was CGI, aka generated by computers.

6. Am I biased?

Finally, you have to ask yourself: do I want this to be true? Do I have a certain political slant or belief that this article is helping me confirm? For example, I think I’m a pretty handsome guy. If I saw an article with the headline “Studies show that people named Johnathan are the most attractive,” I’d want to instantly share it to prove the point to my friends. But I’d have to take a step back and check my sources before I can confirm it.

7. Not a question but… Use a fact checking website!! 

If you’re ever in doubt, there are plenty of places you can find help. Snopes.com is what I used to check on my misinterpretation of the Facebook AI story. There’s also FactCheck.org and Politifact.com.

If you want more practice sorting fake news from real news, there are a ton of quizzes (like this one from the BBC) and even a chrome extension that can help you out. Happy reference hunting!

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Tags: expository writing