Front Page Talking Points


Fake news, Part 2: How to be a smart reader who isn’t tricked by viral nonsense


1.gifIdentify signs of credibility in any article.

2.gifList reasons why a local newspaper is generally a more reliable information source than social media.

3.gifRead about any dispute and tell whether the article seems fair and balanced. Why?

(Second of two parts. Last week: What's behind the fake news phenomenon and why it matters.)

It's important to know how to tell reliable news sites from untrustworthy ones, especially now. A growing number of partisan sites and shady operators post made-up tales and rumors presented to look like legitimate news. Bogus posts spread on social media, and you don’t want to look gullible by sharing phony reports. Being able to tell the difference is called media literacy – a critical thinking skill for news consumers of all ages. "As recent headlines demonstrate, this work is more important now than ever," says education Professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., the main author of a November report on students’ abilities to evaluate media sources properly.

Healthy skepticism and quick research make it fairly easy to distinguish professionally edited media from poseurs or suspicious newcomers posting hoaxes. These are among obvious clues:

  • Is the source widely known and verified with a blue check alongside its social media name?
  • Does it have varied content (business, arts, lifestyle and sports news) or just political controversies and attacks?
  • Does an article quote and identify multiple sources representing independent, authoritative, diverse views?
  • Is there a response from anyone accused or criticized?
  • Is the language neutral and restrained or extreme and inflammatory?
  • Is the article longer than a few paragraphs?
  • Is the news posted elsewhere by a trustworthy source, such as a major publication or network?
  • Does the About Us page show how many years ago it began?
  • If the About Us description is melodramatic and seems overblown, be skeptical.
A key test is whether a site seems fair and balanced, rather than full of anonymous sources and nothing except opinions from one viewpoint. It may seem tricky at times. Fox News and MSNBC are partisan, for example, but also professional. They present point-of-view news and opinions, but not fake content.

Media literacy also involves reading more than headlines or social media summaries of stories. Even mainstream publications or broadcasters can’t give context and balance in a few lines, so don't assume those "teasers" give you a full, fair grasp of news. Also, be wary of questions used as headlines. It can be a way to run a story without confirming it or a way to lure readers ("click bait") with a provocative question that leads to the answer "no."

Research report says: "We worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish." – Stanford University study, Nov. 22

Teacher says: "Once you start giving students the tools to understand when they're being manipulated, you’re blown away with the changes you see." -- Claire Beach, film and media instructor in Edmonds, Wash.

Blogger says: "There's no one simple solution, but we can start by not sharing stories simply because they make us mad. Fake news and misleading stories thrive in anger." – Eric Ravenscraft, senior writer at

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2023

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.