Eight Trust Indicators to Determine If a Media Story Is Fake News

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Scott Baradell

Note: if you are searching for website trust indicators like trust badges and trust seals, you can learn more about those here.

There are few things more annoying than seeing someone you know post a fake news story on social media. Even though it is widely known that not everything on the internet is factually correct, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether an article is true or simply fake news.

Sometimes it is easy to spot a fake news story as the domain name doesn’t appear legitimate (e.g. it ends in .com.co or it is a near copy of a reputable news agency’s site). Other times, an article that is shared enough times is given the benefit of the doubt by millions of readers -- even if its claims are outlandish. This can present reputation management challenges for politicians, celebrities and brands.

The good news is that there are organizations out there that are committed to upholding transparency, accuracy and integrity in the media and educating the public about the hallmarks of a factually correct article. One such organization is the Trust Project, which has created eight trust indicators to help people determine the accuracy of online content. 

The Trust Project's eight indicators have been adopted by Google, Facebook and Bing in their attempts to prevent fake news from overwhelming their platforms, both by flagging content for audiences and filtering content behind the scenes. The Trust Project includes more than 200 news organizations worldwide as partners, including PBS, the BBC, The Economist, Hearst and Sky News.

Let’s take a look at these trust indicators:

  1. Best practices. The first indicator is one of journalistic best practices. Here, questions around the mission of the site, who funds it and what their standards and ethics are for newsgathering need to be asked. One should also consider what would happen if a journalist has ties to the topic being written about.
  2. Author expertise. Journalist expertise involves finding out who wrote and researched the article. A good indicator of a trustworthy article would be if details about the journalist are provided, such as their contact information, their field of expertise and any other articles they’ve written.
  3. Type of work. When reading a news article, you need to have a clear idea about exactly what kind of article it is. A trustworthy news source will always clearly indicate whether the story is straight news, the journalist’s own opinion, an analysis of a situation or if the article has been sponsored.
  4. Citations and references. Whenever research is conducted for a piece of content, the writer should acknowledge the sources they have used. This refers to references and citations and will tell the reader where the writer obtained their information.  If the article is controversial, investigative or in-depth in nature, the reader should also be able to review any original content forming the basis of the assertions and facts made in the article.
  5. Methods. The methods that the journalist uses to write their content is very important. The motive for writing the piece should be clear and, if necessary, it should be revealed how they went about their research and fact-gathering process.
  6. Locally sourced. For content that is specific to a certain geographical area, ideally the writer should know the community quite well and have a good idea of its needs and the people living within it. Reading the content, you should be able to see if the reporting was done on the scene and if the content of the writing reflects the writer’s understanding of the community. If not, this should be a red flag.
  7. Diverse voices. A news source or journalist who is committed to providing factually correct, accurate and trustworthy content will be dedicated to creating pieces that reflect a wide range of perspectives, across many different demographic and social groups.  An easy way to verify the journalist’s or news organization’s perspective on the world is to read their “About Us” section to gain more insight into their goals, mission and vision. Some journalists enjoy writing in a satirical format and, while there is definitely nothing wrong with this, they should point this out in their About section.
  8. Actionable feedback. Any reputable news source or journalist should value accountability and freedom of expression above all else. As they cover important stories and news, they should hold powerful people and institutions accountable for their actions and never seek to cover up stories due to loyalty or political affiliations. In their quest for accuracy and telling their audience the truth, they should be open to questions and suggestions from the public. Engaging their readers and involving them in the way they report stories is vital if they want to be seen as a trustworthy news source.

Fake news and factually incorrect articles can often appear to come from a trusted source, which is why many people get misled. Fortunately, blowing the whistle on false news stories has now become more widespread and readers are quicker and more willing to report questionable articles and stories. The Trust Project arms the public with valuable information to make better decisions about the stories we trust.

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