Emerge Magazine 2017
Photo by Danielle Tocher/EMERGE

Four clues that it’s Fake News

By: Jasen Obermeyer

In 2017, it’s become much harder to tell between real news and fake news, especially with the rise of clickbait. It’s far too common to read articles online that look legitimate but aren’t, and we’re seeing more fake news articles pop up by the day.

It’s an issue that even social media giants are facing. Facebook users, for example, frequently encounter sourceless articles. The company has been unable to stem the tide. Meanwhile, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, fake news was weaponized to slander candidates.

In this world of infinite information I think you should care about the source of your news.

Luckily, members of the media industry have the knowledge and expertise to tell fact from fiction. Mark Bulgutch, a former CBC senior executive producer, is confident the media can earn back the public’s trust. Bulgutch also said he believes the best way to combat fake news is for media consumers to be armed with the tools to sniff out bogus articles.

The prevalence of fake news is increasing because it’s lucrative and easy to produce, Bulgutch said. He added that most fake news is consumed online, because it’s easy to spread information to a large audience, while spending little to no money.

Fake news has been around for a long time, but in the age of the Internet, it is more pervasive than in the past. According to Bulgutch, “fake news has actually gained a hold in a slightly more sophisticated way,” because it has a “ring of truth to it.”

“In this world of infinite information,” Bulgutch said. “I think you should care about the source of your news.”

He offered some tips for identifying the validity of a news story.


1)      What kind of story is it?

At its core, is the story believable? Bulgutch said something like a spaceship landing on Toronto City Hall doesn’t seem plausible, but Justin Trudeau meeting with the Russian ambassador does.

2)      Do you recognize the outlet?

Look at where the story is coming from. If it’s coming from CTV News, or CBC, the story is far more likely to be true because mainstream media have “everything to lose by making up fake news,” Bulgutch said. Other, more obscure outlets often already have less-than-favourable reputations. They “have no interest in the facts. They have interest in making money [or] pushing their points of view.”

3)    Do they use credible sources?

When reading the story, look at who provides the information. Bulgutch said a credible source, like the police chief in a murder investigation, is more credible than a random, anonymous person.

4)    Honest mistakes vs. careless mistakes

Media outlets are bound to make mistakes sometimes. An honest mistake – like reporting how many people are in a crowd, counting them, and then realizing one was hidden –is human error. Throughout his time at the CBC, Bulgutch said, broadcasters often raced to get the story first. He learned that it’s ultimately better to “be right, than first,” because racing against time means mistakes are more likely to occur.

This story first appeared in the EMERGE print magazine.

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This story is a selected feature from the 2017 EMERGE print magazine.

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