Dear Savvy Senior,
I recently read that seniors are the No. 1 purveyor of fake news on the Internet. Is this true, or is it fake news too? If it’s true, how can seniors go about spotting fake news? — Faked Out Senior
Dear Faked Out,
Yes, it’s true. According to a recent study published in the journal Science Advances, people age 65 and older are almost four times more likely to share fake news on social media than younger people.
Why do older users share fake news more often? There are two theories. The first is that seniors, who came to the Internet later, sometimes lack the digital literacy skills of their younger counterparts to identify false or misleading content. The second is that many older people experience cognitive decline as they age, making them more likely to fall for hoaxes.
What is fake news?
Fake news is not new, but it is more prevalent than ever before because of the Internet and social networking, which enables it to spread like wildfire.
Fake news is false news stories, hoaxes or propaganda created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Usually, these stories are created to either influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.
Also note that some fake stories aren’t completely false, but rather distortions of real events. These deceitful claims can take a legitimate news story and twist what it says, or even claim that something that happened long ago is related to current events.
How to spot fake news
Here are some tips from the International Federation of Library Associations, Harvard University and Facebook that can help you spot fake news stories.
Be skeptical of headlines: False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
Look closely at the web link: A phony or lookalike link may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the link, for example “abcnews.com.co” (an illegitimate site) versus the actual “abcnews.com.”
Investigate the source: Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check its “About” section to learn more. You can also find a list of websites that post deceptive and fake content at FactCheck.org — type “misinformation directory” in the search feature to find it.
Watch for unusual formatting: Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
Inspect the dates: False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
Check the evidence: Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
Look at other reports: If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.
Do some fact checking: There are many good websites, like PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com and FactCheck.org that can help you examine a story to help you identify fact versus fiction. These sites have most likely already fact-checked the latest viral claim to pop up in your news feed.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.