WhatsApp Limits Message Forwarding to 5 Individuals, GroupsAI as Fact Checker: Algorithm Identifies Fake News Stay on target Fake news has become an often repeated and very loaded phrase over the last few months. Whether you believe it comes mostly from the right or the left of the political spectrum, the fact that you’re on the Internet means you’re going to be exposed to it. Because the concept seems so vague and political on the surface, it might seem hard to identify. And no, you can’t identify it just by shouting “FAKE NEWS!” at something you don’t like…like a magic spell.It’s fairly easy to cut through fake news if you know the signs, and it’s even easier to find the truth underneath it. You only need to take two steps, click a few times, and maybe Google a term or two, and you can find out if the information you’re getting is misinformation. I call this the Power Drill Method of fake news busting, and anyone can do it. It focuses on recognizing fake news, then trying to drill down to either the molten core of actual facts fueling it or the empty pocket of air of hearsay and lies it’s built around.For example, let’s look at two fake news sites I was sent as a response to the story of a swastika being scrawled on an NYC subway window and the people in the car getting together to clean it off with hand sanitizer and tissues. A schmaltzy story, but enough to provoke some people into calling it a likely left-wing hoax. To back up this allegation, I was given two links to other “swastika hoax” stories, on US Herald and Information Liberation. They are perfect examples of fake news sites using elements of truth to build a heavily slanted, guided narrative that fits their political bend.AdChoices广告Step 1: Identify the Source and Its Potential BiasesThe Internet is full of aggregators and editorial filters of information. All news outlets filter raw data, reports, and collected accounts into stories that are more easily consumable. Good news outlets filter without injecting their preferred narratives into those stories. Fake news outlets dissolve all of the facts they can get into a big narrative stew that fits their agenda.If you can figure out what angle a site has, you can better understand what narrative they might be shaping and why. Look at the name and tagline of the site, and click on the About link (it’ll be at the bottom of the page if it isn’t on the top) and see if you can make out any buzzwords that show heavy lean. Look for any signs of political defensiveness, like a premise that it’s valiantly fighting the oppressive mainstream media or social mores. Or it might be obviously and nakedly biased, making it easier to identify.US Herald calls itself “Real Conservative News Online,” and claims it “leverages the power of social media as a means of distribution to break the stranglehold of the traditional media’s liberal bias.” It’s politically defensive against “liberal bias” and wears its conservative bend on its sleeve.Information Liberation doesn’t have quite as obvious partisan flags, but there are a few buzzwords that can give you a hint. It says it’s a “news site dedicated to pursuing the truth wherever it leads,” and that’s reasonable. It does so “without apology,” which is also reasonable but getting defensive. And it does so “without care for being politically correct,” and that’s where the defensiveness pushes straight through into big flashing fake news territory. By framing news solely as an “us versus them” concept, you’re protecting yourself from any criticism for inaccuracy or slant. If your report is biased, you can just say you’re not politically correct like everyone else is. If you stand by the quality of your reporting, you don’t need to start on the defensive.Step 2: Find the Original ReportsFake news doesn’t always mean false news. The really bold fake news sites simply make things up out of whole cloth or take uncorroborated social media posts as truth, but more often you’ll see a story that actually happened but is being told to you in a very specific, misguided way. That’s why you need to drill down to the original source of the story, which hopefully won’t be a fake news site. It’s the core of the Power Drill Method.Look for any source links in the story. Usually, if there’s a real story behind it, it’ll be a local news report that has a much less biased account of the events. If it’s a small news story, the local report is probably the only first-hand report. Everything else you read from the site that linked to it will be an editorial filter, usually to push a narrative.The US Herald story of “Two Liberals BUSTED for HOAX of Trump-Swastika graffiti on church” links to the Conservative Tribune. Which, as you can tell from the very name, indicates a political slant. However, the Conservative Tribune story links to a Chicago Tribune story, which is an actual news report from an actual journalist who read reports, asked questions and got quotes. That’s the core you need to drill down to the actual source of the story. And if anyone suggests that the Chicago Tribune isn’t credible as “mainstream media,” consider that the Conservative Tribune and through it the US Herald found it credible enough to base all of its coverage on the report. It’s the source.The Information Liberation story of a “Swastika Hate Hoax” is a lot easier to drill into. It links directly to the WABC news report on the story. That’s the source. If you hit bland, local news, that’s probably where the story comes from. And the reporters at that bland, local news outlet probably did all of the footwork to get every bit of tangible information that’s being filtered to you.If you can’t find an original source that falls outside of the fake news circle, and there doesn’t seem to be any first-hand accounts at the local news level, you can stop at this step and simply discount the story. It might simply be a lie or repeated hearsay, rather than a narrative put on top of events that actually happened.Step 3: Spot the DifferencesNow that you have the core report to work with, you can look at the possibly fake news site and see just what they tried to add to the story. And in both cases here, they added the entire hoax narrative. Compare the Chicago Tribune report to the Conservative Tribune, and US Herald reports on the exact same event: two Northwestern students charged with hate crimes and vandalism for what they spray-painted on a church. I’ll be quoting a lot of sources in this section, both from fake news and local news sites. To help you keep track, I’ll bold the actual news stories and keep the fake news quotes simply italicized.The Chicago Tribune gives an account of the two students being charged for what they did. It details the time and date of the vandalism and the location of the church and has quotes from the judge.Once inside the chapel, the pair spray-painted an expletive and a slur against African-Americans with a swastika on the chapel hallway, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Brooke Shupe told the court. In a separate area, they spray-painted a derogatory word for homosexuals on a wall, along with lines spray-painted over photos of Muslim students.The young men also spray-painted penises in several places around the church, including on a piano in the chapel, above the word “God” in a hallway, and in a stairwell where they also painted the word “Trump,” authorities said, Shupe said.Prosecutors did not say what they think sparked this act of vandalism. Those are the facts. Two students spray painted hateful things on a church. Their motives are unclear. They were charged with hate crimes and vandalism. Now, look at how the Conservative Tribune and US Herald frame the same story, starting with their headlines:BREAKING: Two Liberals BUSTED For HOAX Of Trump-Swastika Graffiti On Church- Mainstream Media SILENT! andOutrage as Leftist Source of Trump-Swastika Graffiti Exposed Nothing in the source story mentions it being a hoax, or that the students were liberals or leftist or of any political bend. By the fact, they were two college students who committed the vandalism, and their motives aren’t clear. The Conservative Tribune and US Herald both added narratives of them being liberals performing hoaxes, presumably to make Trump supporters look bad. The fake news starts in the headline and permeates through the rest of the story, pushing the idea that this was a false-flag operation by devious leftists and not a pair of dumbass college kids. And all of that perspective was injected into the “stories” with complete disregard of the actual account of the events that happened.Now, let’s look at the other story, as told by WABC. Nassau County police arrested 20-year-old Plainview resident Jasskirat Saini for spraypainting swastikas around Nassau Community College. The vandalism started around October 15.The charges are connected with 110 anti-Semitic drawings, involving 10 cases at Nassau Community College, said Nassau Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter. Each count is punishable by up to four years in prison.“It appears that this bigot was motivated by perceived slights of the Jewish community in his neighborhood in Plainview,” he said. Now, he did spraypaint a “KKK” on one building, and as a minority Long Island resident it’s reasonable to doubt that he’s a member of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Commissioner Krumpter, his motives stemmed from antisemitism and not any desire for a hoax, (beyond perhaps hoping the “KKK” would throw off any accusations towards him, but this is speculation on my part).Compare that to the Information Liberation account, based entirely on the WABC report, starting with the lede:A hate crime hoaxer who drew swastikas and wrote “KKK” and “Heil Hitler” around Nassau Community College in New York is being threatened with 40 years in prison. Again, nothing in the original report indicates a hoax.The Information Liberation story then says that the maximum punishment of 40 years for the multiple charges is 40 years and that it seems harsher than other hate crime “hoaxes” it doesn’t identify. It quotes the same section I quoted, bolding the sentence detailing the punishment. Then it punctuates the story with:Really makes you think. There’s a big omission in that account, and it’s the end of the WABC story that gives context to hate crimes in Nassau County:Krumpter said in 2016, there have been 57 bias incidents in Nassau County; 40 of those involved graffiti. Police said Saini is responsible for more than 10 of those incidents.Bias crimes in 2016 are down 6 percent, he said, over 2015. 40 separate graffiti bias incidents (incidents that seem to indicate motivation from bias or prejudice) in Nassau County last year. 57 bias incidents total. That’s a lot of hoaxes, which is the narrative Information Liberation is pushing. That these acts are all hoaxes.Now that should make you think.Three Easy Steps, RepeatedThis is a simple process if you have the patience and attention for it.Identify the biases of the possibly fake news sourceDrill down to the original account, if it exists.Spot the differences to figure out what narrative is being pushed by the fake news source.You don’t have to take everything you read at face value, or blindly discount everything as fake news. If something sounds too good or bad to be true, or if you think you’re being fed a line, follow these steps to get closer to the truth of what happened.And if you think this story is fake news, or that I’m overly biased or unfair, please let us know. Comment below or contact me or tweet at me with criticism in my methodology or analysis. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to hear it. But if your problem is only with the sides being portrayed in this story and not the facts being presented or the process I’m providing, feel free to use the same process for fake news from the other direction. You’re not doing either of us a service by blindly discounting things because of an immediate political revulsion instead of using careful consideration to actually find the facts for yourself.