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How to Avoid Getting Duped by Fake News Sites

No, there was no crocodile found in the Ocean on LBI.

No, there was not a mako shark found at Tices Shoal.

Cracker Barrel Restaurants Lawsuit
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

And no, Cracker Barrel is not opening in Lacey Township. These stories all went viral, and they are all very, very fake…but sure, they look real. So, how can you keep from being duped?

Let’s take a minute to talk about media literacy, a fancy sounding phrase that really just means how well someone can access, understand, and evaluate the things they see and hear on TV, radio, online, on billboards, etc.

It’s really that last part that’s important.

Most of us have no problem flipping on the TV or scrolling through our various social media feeds, and most of it is easy enough to understand.

Evaluating what we see though, well that’s another story all together.

It’s not just enough to look at a headline.

Trust me, as someone who writes articles just about every day, the tiny space I get for a headline is rarely enough to accurately tell the story.

Before you share a story, whether it’s telling a friend or posting it online…read the actual story. The crocodile on LBI story I mentioned in the first line? Anyone who read the actual story should have seen the giant words “You’ve been pranked.” Or in smaller print at the bottom of the page the notice saying it was a prank website.

(Though I wouldn’t call a fake news story that specifically serves to scare people a prank. I’d call it stupid and obnoxious.)

Pictures don’t tell the full story either.

Remember that beautiful photo that everyone shared showing Mary Lee the great white shark surfacing majestically off the coast of Asbury Park with a rainbow behind her…JUST in time for the start of Asbury Pride weekend?

That was fake. (I mean, it was a real picture, but it wasn’t taken anywhere near Jersey, and it wasn’t Mary Lee in the photo…and it was from 2015.)

It takes a little more work to find out if a photo is fake, but the easiest way is to do a reverse image search on Google. Go to images.google.com, click on the camera icon in the search bar, and either paste the link to the photo or upload the photo itself.

If it’s ever appeared on the web somewhere else, the results will come up. That rainbow shark picture for example was National Geographic.

Consider the source.

This may be the most important one of all. Those three stories at the top all come from a site called Channel23news.com.

Here in Jersey, have you ever heard of a Channel 23 News? No.

(“But Laurie! You expect people to know every legitimate media outlet? What if they are new?” Yes, good point. So let’s continue.)

Say you’ve never heard of this supposed news site. Then what?

Well, in the case of Channel 23 news, if you go to the home page of channel23news.com, it literally tells you it’s a site made to prank your friends. Neat.

Earlier this month a post was circulating from “WFRV 9 News” that Miley Cyrus was talking about Middletown, NJ residents. A 2-second Google search would tell you that WFRV is in Wisconsin…and it’s channel 5 there…and their website does not use wfrv9.com.

Additionally, on the fake story from “WFRV 9 News,” the first tab on the website says “Disclaimer.”

That should spark your BS meter. More importantly, when you click disclaimer, it tells you that it’s a satire website.

Think about it.

Be skeptical of these random sites you’ve never heard of before. Check spellings on site names and source names. Look into their ‘About’ sections to see who is behind the site.

If a story is only up on one site, and it’s a questionable site at best, chances are good it’s a fake story.

Media literacy is more important than ever. Knowledge is power, my friends.

NEXT: Sorry, but that picture of Mary Lee in Asbury Park is Fake

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