When a video posted by "anonymous" on YouTube promised the imminent announcement that NASA found evidence of alien life forms, it was a story that proved irresistible to many mainstream news outlets.
It had to be true! After all, NASA had just announced the true discovery of over two hundred new planets, about thirty of which might have the right mix of temperature and atmosphere to support life.
But no, the story that NASA would release evidence of aliens was just a real example of fake news.
When the Washington Post reported on how YouTube story gained so much traction, it said the headlines were a big come on, but a closer reading showed that, no, NASA doesn’t have such evidence.
And that if it had, NASA would hardly be able to contain itself from sharing the big news.
So what does this tell us about fake news, and how news consumers can respond to it?
Well, it may sound obvious, but readers or viewers must beware and consider the source.
Fake news flourishes best when readers lack critical thinking skills or allow themselves to set aside the kind of natural skepticism that should come from a good, all around education or simply good common sense.
Of course, fake news can be very clever in selling itself on a headline or presenting an idea that sounds, well, too good to be true. “buyer beware”. Consider the source.
It's not always possible to spot fake news right away.
But we also should know that just like when we hear about an unbelievably good deal -- if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So, when it comes to fake news, if the source is YouTube video, just because it gets picked up by national news organizations, that doesn't mean it's true…or even worth your time.
General Manager Holly Steuart brings two editorials a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to:
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