The news never stops – whether from conventional news sites, from other sources that don’t hesitate to fabricate their own “news” or from friends who forward alarming stories without considering whether they are news stories at all.
And it’s no surprise that sucked into this maelstrom of information are an endless number of stories that touch on the lives of Jews, Judaism and the State of Israel.
But before you get (needlessly) alarmed by a story that was designed to do just that – or is the product of shoddy reporting – there are a few rules and tools use can use to separate the fake from the news.
This is even more important when we look at how seriously Judaism treats lashon harah, derogatory speech. Next week we observe Tisha B’av, a tragic day in the Jewish calendar often associated with baseless hatred and gossip mongering. Although there are plenty of players out there who wish ill upon Jews and Israel, we should be vigilant to not perpetuate vicious rumours about those who are innocent and whose names have been maliciously swept into the news.
Here are some tools to spot fake news:
Consider the source. Baroness Jenny Tonge is a longtime critic of Israel. As Aish.com has pointed out, Tonge posted an article in January 2017 on her Facebook feed in which Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is quoted as saying it’s “Time to admit that Israel is a sick society,the Israeli Holocaust against the Palestinians is worse than Nazis.” That article comes from a Dubai-based website called AWD News and is false. Internet debunking website snopes.com says AWD “doesn’t have more than a nodding acquaintance with facts, instead playing on nationalistic fantasy and conspiracy theory to create alarming (and thus clickable and shareable) stories.”
Okay. But could a sophisticated reader really be fooled by fake news? In May 2017, Pakistan issued a nuclear warning to Israel after the publication of a story headlined, “If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we [Israel] will destroy this country with a nuclear attack.” The story about Israel’s intentions was a hoax. Unfortunately, the response from Pakistan was all too real.
Read beyond the headline. Sometimes fakers slap an outrageous headline onto a legitimate story figuring you won’t read the story. Do. It will almost always reveal whether it’s a hack. Or maybe it is a genuine story suffering from an inaccurate headline.
Pay attention to the website address, the domain and the URL. In order to afford themselves some respectability, purveyors of fake news often create websites whose addresses look legitimate but are not. For example, abcnews.com is an authentic news site; abcnews.com.co is not. (Similar “phishing” techniques are used to fool you into sharing confidential information online.)
Is it a joke? Websites like The Onion and The New Yorker’s The Borowitz Report clearly mark their content as humour. But every so often their satire fools news editors and is circulated as genuine news. I was relieved when I learned that “UNESCO Declares Katz’s Deli ‘Palestinian Heritage Site’” was merely the product of the imagination of a site called themideastbeast.com.
When receiving suspicious email, look for telltales signs like:
• Bad grammar or
• Phrases like, “Forward this to everyone you know!” The more urgent the plea, the more suspect the message.
• Statements like “This is NOT a hoax.” It often is.
• Overly emphatic language, as well as frequent use of UPPERCASE LETTERS and multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!
Consult the experts. I recently attended an excellent seminar on this topic by Craig Silverman. Silverman, media editor at Buzzfeed, is an authority on misinformation and creator of the Regret the Error blog where he compiled the worst (and funniest) media errors and their corrections. Silverman has also put together an list of advanced verification tools to determine whether a story or photo or video is legit. I recommend it highly.
There are several fact-checking sites that do a marvelous job investigating whether stories that are circulating are actually true. The most famous is snopes.com. I also turn to truthorfiction.com. These sites deal with ALL types of rumours but there seems to be inordinate number of questionable stories about Israel and Jews out there. The Anti-Defamation League also has a good archive but does not seem to be adding new entries.
Now that you have the tools, do you think you could separate fake from fact? We’ll test your skills next time.