Trying not to get hoaxed

It used to be that when it came to stories that may or may not be hoaxes, one would look to see if it had been published by a real news operation, under the assumption that they would check it out for accuracy of at least the basic facts before running with it. That is no longer a guarantee. With the proliferation of fake news sites that seek to fool mainstream news sources into passing on hoaxes as the real thing, it is becoming harder to make out what news stories are real and what are fake.

This is especially the case with some stories that pop up and spread like wildfire, like the story of the woman who had a third breast implanted. How can one protect oneself from passing on false stories?

One great source to check is, of course, Snopes, the venerable fact-checking site. Now Craig Silverman of the Poynter Institute has started something called Emergent where he tries to do something similar. One difference is that this is being done as part of a study to see whether they can identify the characteristics of fake stories that are more likely to fool people and go viral.

Silverman gave a radio interview that you can listen to here and he discusses the three-breast story among others.

One thing I have noticed is when there is a wave of outrage over some issue, that is the time when one has to be most cautious about any new story that seems to fit the outrageous pattern or even exceed it. As always, when a news story seems really bizarre, it is good to take it with a grain of salt.


  1. lorn says

    My standard is to ask simple questions:
    Is this from a “reputable source” , not WND or Onion? Established and well known news sources usually do have at least some fact verification. This is not a sure thing, both advertising and politics sometimes gets mixed with real news. Careful reading of all the fine print sometimes clarifies things.

    Does it make sense? Who benefits and why would anyone do such a thing?

    Avoid emotionalism. The more emotional an account the less reliable it tends to be.

    Is this an event ‘out of the blue’ or is this simply an extension of known events or behaviors? Very few events are both entirely new and unique. Most people are followers and even the leaders more often just extend a known behavior than invent ones.

    When in doubt I simply wait. Given a bit of time reality tends to come to the surface. The worse of the liars and BS artists tend to get out ahead of the facts so waiting allows reality to catch up.

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