Fake news and misinformation are everywhere. It seems like every time breaking news emerges, there are also fake or misleading stories being spread right alongside the factual information (often times via social media).
What is a person to do? Well, there are some easy steps the average person can take to remain vigilant (consult the many resources available here). It is vital that everyone should learn to identify and prevent fake news, why not let something else do the work for you if that option is available?
In the United States, the majority of adults (90+%) get at least some news online via mobile or desktop, according to a Pew Research Center report. Folks who get their news exclusively from mobile devices will have to manually identify and prevent fake news; but if you use a computer to get your news, consider installing a fake news-related browser extension.
Put your browser to work!
There are many fake news browser extensions available, but two prominent ones are NewsGuard and Media Bias Fact Check. They may not be 100% accurate (or you may not agree with them 100%), but they do a wonderful job of flagging sources that are suspicious, biased, untrustworthy, etc.
The two browsers don’t compete with each other. Rather, they are great companions to each other.
(The bulk of the text below about NewsGuard is derived from an article written by Carmen Redding, which was published in the November 2018 issue of the State Library’s “Flickertale” newsletter.)
Are you having trouble deciding if a website is sharing the truth? Well, NewsGuard, a news literacy program, has been launched with the support from Microsoft. Staffed by almost 40 reporters and dozens of freelancers, the NewsGuard team diligently examines thousands of websites based on nine widely-accepted, journalistic criteria designed to minimize human bias and subjectivity. The results determine a website’s rating.
Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard Technologies’ co-founders and co-CEOs, joined forces to give this program a human face rather than relying on algorithms to determine what we see. NewsGuard is the opposite of an algorithm. People with journalistic backgrounds are reviewing the sites. “Algorithms don’t call for comment,” says Brill. NewsGuard, on the other hand, gives plenty of explanation about their ratings.
NewsGuard works as a browser plug-in/ extension, giving credibility ratings to thousands of websites. A user simply downloads the extension on Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari. Sorry, Internet Explorer, users. If you are reading this, it is time for you to abandon IE and go with a much superior browser.
After the extension is added, the NewsGuard icon will appear in the upper right corner of the browser. The rating icons will appear on websites, Google searches, and Facebook and Twitter when website articles are used.
By hovering over the colored icon, a “Nutrition Label” appears. This label explains how NewsGuard decided the website’s rating. Ratings and label information are updated regularly, and whenever a site changes its practices, the icon will be adjusted accordingly.
The NewsGuard website contains plenty of information, including a section dedicated to news literacy; and on this page, NewsGuard makes a compelling argument for libraries, educators, parents, etc. to add the browser extension to their computers.
The NewsGuard browser extension can be downloaded from their website: https://www.newsguardtech.com/
Media Bias Fact Check
According to their website, Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC) was founded in 2015 and “is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices. MBFC News’ aim is to inspire action and a rejection of overtly biased media. We want to return to an era of straight forward news reporting.” MBFC’s methodology and additional information are available on their website.
The MBFC browser extension is not as comprehensive as NewsGuard, but it does excel in one area that is more hidden on NewsGuard: bias. After the extension is added, the MBFC icon will appear in the upper right corner of the browser.
When visiting a news-related website or reading an article, the browser extension will prominently display a color-coded icon indicating its bias (see image below for a list of the icons).
Clicking on the icon will reveal more information about the source (see the slightly compressed image below).
The Media Bias Fact Check browser extension is only available for Chrome (a Firefox version exists but it seems to be faulty). It can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store.
Other promising browser extensions
With so much information coming at you everyday, it can be hard to figure out what is Real Journalism vs Fake News. While computers can’t tell you what’s true and what’s not, they can help provide information that will help you make that determination. FakerFact uses a machine learning algorithm we call Walt (named after Walter Cronkite). Walt has read millions of articles from sites all over the internet, and has been trained to detect relevant Fake News patterns. For example, Walt can tell you whether the web page you are viewing shares characteristics of articles that are typical of good journalism, opinion pieces, clickbait, conspiracy theories, or satire. Then you can make your own determination of whether you think the article is a valid and trustworthy news source or if it is Fake News.
SurfSafe gives you the power to find the source of misinformation and make informed decisions about what you are really reading. At the heart of every fake news story is an image that is likely doctored or taken out of context. SurfSafe uses the news sites you trust, along with fact checking pages and user reports as benchmarks for what images are considered “safe”. It’s simple – just hover over an image, and SurfSafe will classify the image as “safe”, “warning”, or “unsafe”. SurfSafe will also show you every instance of where the image in question has been seen before. You will be able to see if the context of image in the article has anything to do with the original instance. Not only can you protect yourself from fake news with SurfSafe, but you can also fight back. SurfSafe allows you to report suspicious images in order to help others surf safely.
Trusted News uses independent, transparent and neutral sources to assess news sites. We aim to help you cast a more critical eye over the news by rating for fake, questionable or trustworthy news. We do not intend any political bias. Using a simple notification system, the extension flags the trustworthiness of the site. Check at-a-glance if a site is reputable or not. Trusted News also highlights satirical and user-generated content. Clicking the Trusted News extension will provide more detailed information about a site.