What I Learned About Fake News (the Hard Way)

Hands on laptop cropped

After ten years of blogging without being duped, I posted a fake news story a few days ago. It was a beautiful story about a group of Italian doctors ground down to exhaustion in a hospital overwhelmed by COVID-19 victims. In the story, a seventy-five year old priest shows up and ministers to the patients. Reading to them from his Bible, he risks infection, and, ultimately he does indeed become infected with the coronavirus and dies. The doctors witness this and are inspired by the priest (or pastor in some versions). They leave atheism and turn back to God.

If you follow God Running you know I normally publish original content. But I was so moved by this story, I decided to post it. Honestly, it was so inspiring, I couldn’t wait to put it up on the blog.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one inspired because it attracted 60,000 views in less than a week. Then the unthinkable happened. An atheist shared (in a very respectful manner) in the comment thread that the article was derived from a fake story that has been circulating around for awhile.

That happened on Easter Sunday. Kathy and I were visiting with our “closed herd” members Gabe, Charise, and Andrew. I felt compelled to deal with it immediately so as soon as I saw the comment I enlisted Gabe and Nate’s help and we researched the article. I was disappointed to learn that it was very probably false news. So I updated the story and shared that it was likely untrue.

Needless to say Easter Sunday was disrupted and chaotic.

Today, in an effort to help myself avoid spreading fake news in the future, and to help you too if you’re interested, I’m sharing some great information from Harvard University about how to evaluate whether a story is reliable, or not. (Hat tip to Gabe for pointing me to this great resource: 4 Tips for Spotting a Fake News Story. Most of the information below comes from that article.)

1) Searches

  • Do a search for sentences and phrases. Also do a reverse search for images. If you find multiple versions of the same story — that’s a huge flag. It could be a recycled fake story. If you find images that aren’t specific to the central person in the story, that’s another flag.

2) The Publisher’s Credibility

  • Is the publishing website credible? Just because a site is popular among our friends doesn’t mean its content is accurate. To borrow from Daniel Kibblesmith: In the 90’s some of us told our kids not to trust anyone on the internet. But now we’re sharing stories we want to believe in, from “news” outlets we see on Facebook, without any source checking whatsoever. (@kibblesmith tweet)
  • What’s the domain name? Be wary of unusual top-level domain names like “.com.co” A second-level domain name like “abcnews” may appear credible. But “abcnews.com.co” is a different illegitimate site. It appears similar because it was designed to appear similar.
  • What’s the publication’s point of view? Read the “About Us” section. Who’s in leadership? What’s their mission statement? Also, confirm you haven’t accidentally found a satirical news site, like the Onion.
  • Research the author. What else has he or she published? If it’s a celebrity writing for a little-known site, that’s a flag.

3) Errors

  • Are there spelling errors?
  • Are ALL CAPS commonly used?
  • Is punctuation overdone?!?!?!!!!!!???

4) Sources and Citations

  • Where did you find it? Was it from your social media feed? If it was, be sure to vet the article before sharing it.
  • If there are few or no cited quotes or contributing sources, especially if the article addresses a complex issue, something’s probably off.
  • See if you can find the article on a credible news outlet or academic site. If you can’t, maybe that’s because the journalistic jury is still out on whether the information is reliable.

Today there’s more news available than ever, and right now, most of us have more time than ever to read news. Problem is, there’s more fake news available than ever too. So if you read something you find appealing, something that makes your inner self cheer,  something that makes you say, “Wow!” or “Oh yes!” or “That’s it exactly!” or “I told my brother-in-law this is how it was!”

Be careful.

Check it out before sharing.

It might be fake news.

Related article: Updated, This Story Likely Not True–Italian Doctor After COVID-19: “I was an atheist but now I’m back to God.”

Notes:

Christina Nagler, 4 Tips for Spotting a Fake News Story, Harvard Summer School

 

1106 Design Love Like Jesus Book Cover

Newly released book by Kurt Bennett, now available on Amazon!

Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)

Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.

Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:

  • Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
  • How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
  • The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
  • How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
  • How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
  • How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
  • How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
  • How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
  • How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.

With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.

A life of loving like Jesus.

(Kindlehardcover, and paperback now available on Amazon.)

4 Comments on “What I Learned About Fake News (the Hard Way)

  1. Great and helpful post, Kurt. Thank you for your candid description. It has happened to many of us. I appreciate that you want to help prevent it for others.

    • Thanks Bonnie. I strive to keep everything on God Running as accurate as possible, so, this was painful. Hope I don’t have to write an article like this ever again! Thanks for stopping by!!!

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