“The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification,” according to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel in their book “The Elements of Journalism.” However, with the advent of social media, it seems that principle has been shaken to its core.
In the aftermath of Donald J. Trump’s shocking narrow victory over Hillary Clinton in last month’s United States presidential elections, there’s been increased attention over the proliferation of fake news items from shady websites. According to a report from The Washington Post, these hoax news items could have reached as much as 15 million Americans primarily through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Given that flipping just a little more than 100,000 votes in the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin could have made Clinton the winner, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the spread of fake news items (most likely orchestrated by the Russians government, according to the US intelligence community) significantly swayed the election outcome.
Without a doubt, this is also problem here in the Philippines especially because of the wild popularity of social media among Filipinos. Last year, I gave a talk during the 11th Philippine Blogging Summit (IBlog 11) about the steps students, researchers, journalists, and all netizens must keep in mind to protect themselves from fake news items posted in shady websites.
1) What is the topic that you are searching about?
Some websites focus on specific topics (niches) only. Ergo, if you are looking for movie reviews, you shall go to RottenTomatoes.com, not ESPN.com which is a sports news website.
2) Do you know the author?
Did the author of the online article make himself or herself known? If an article has no identified author, then it’s a big red flag. When writers put their names in the article (either as a by-line or a tag-line), it means that they are establishing their accountability over it. If the article is very good, then he/she should get the credit. If the story is faulty, then he/she should get the blame.
— GMA News Breaking (@gmanewsbreaking) December 5, 2015
3) Can the author be contacted?
Nowadays, it is common to see authors providing their social media accounts or their email addresses as a way of entertaining questions, suggestions, and other reactions from their readers.
4) Does the author cite any sources?
“Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” says the late British journalist and founder of The Guardian Charles P. Scott (1846 to 1932). It means that while anyone can say anything, their opinion is worthless unless it is based on facts.
5) Is the author or the website being cited by other writers?
If a writer is being referenced in the work of other writers, it signals that he/she is being regarded as an authoritative figure.
6) Relevance of the information
Is the information indicated in the article still relevant, or is it already obsolete? If it is, checking other sources may be necessary.