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Identifying Fake News: Use Deception Detection Techniques

It is becoming harder and harder to know what you can believe on the news. Advances in information technology and the explosion of social media postings have created a news environment that is exceptionally easy to exploit for both profit and political advantage. The best way to protect yourself is to adopt this three-stage approach:

Identify. The best question to ask yourself when reading a news story is “Is this report too good to be true?” Stories emanating from a less practiced deceiver almost always fall into this category. Other Deception Detection questions to ask when dealing with a more sophisticated deceiver are:

  • Was the information received at a critical point in my decision making process?
  • Would accepting the information cause me to extend or divert significant resources?
  • Does believing the information require me to alter a key assumption or change a judgment?
  • Would the originator have a lot to win or lose should I decide the report is true?
  • Does the deceiver have a feedback channel that would illuminate how successful the deception was?
  • Does the information conflict with other reporting on the topic?
  • Does this source have a history of generating questionable or biased reports?

Categorize. Fake news comes in many flavors.  If you want to distinguish fake news from real news reporting, a good question to ask is “What is motivating the author?” The identity of the author usually is a good indication of how much you need to worry:

  • Fake News is usually generated by individual entrepreneurs to mislead a reader for personal or financial gain; the purpose is to attract the viewer to ads thereby generating revenue for the originator of the story.
  • False or Fraud News is purposely intended to mislead the reader, most often for partisan political purposes. The objective is to provide incorrect information that confirms the readers’ biases and further hardens mental mindsets.
  • Deception is the intentional action by an adversary to influence the perceptions, decisions, or actions of the recipient to the advantage of the deceiver. The better the deception the less likely you are to detect it.
  • Active Measures are Russian deception operations intended to manipulate the perceptions or actions of individual decision makers, the public, and governments to influence the course of world events. RT (Russia Today) is a global news network based in Moscow which is a good example of this type reporting.

Avoid. What can you do to avoid being deceived?  Here are some Deception Detection steps you can take:

  • Avoid relying on only one source of information or stream of reporting.
  • Seek reporting from those closest to the event.
  • Do not rely exclusively on what someone says (verbal intelligence). Look for material evidence that would back up the report.
  • Consider a full set of hypotheses that could explain what is occurring.
  • Look for a pattern where a source’s reporting initially appears to be plausible but consistently turns out later on to be wrong.

The chances of being deceived by fake news are growing every day. Facebook, Google, and other social media sites are busy developing ways to screen out fake news, but the task is daunting. Until such algorithms are perfected, the best strategy is to stop and ask yourself the questions listed above before retweeting or forwarding a “really great story” to a friend or colleague.

For a fuller description of Deception Detection, order your copy of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, 2nd ed. here.

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