Recently, we’re hearing many accusations against the media regarding “fake news.” So how can we tell what’s fake and what isn’t?

Purposely fake are satirical articles, such as those in The Onion and The Borowitz Report. They use humor to ridicule and expose what the authors see as corruption or incompetence. People familiar with those publications realize the articles are created to make us laugh and, although the subjects of the articles are real, the details are intentionally and admittedly unbelievable.

Other sites fool us into thinking they’re credible news, like NBCNews.com.co and ABCnews.com.co, invented by writer Paul Horner to see how many people were gullible enough to believe the ridiculous stories they contained. As it turned out, many of the fake stories ended up on Google’s top news search results, were widely shared by Facebook users, and spread by many others such as those working on Trump’s campaign, ABC News and Fox News. If you see a .co or something else after the .com on an internet address, it’s probably a fake news site.

Then there are radio and television shows that feature wild and constantly debunked conspiracy theories like those spouted by extreme right-wing radio hosts Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh. Their purpose isn’t to inform; it’s to be crazy enough to attract the attention of large numbers of people and get rich by selling lots of ads. Limbaugh and Jones are laughing at their listeners all the way to the bank.

Sneakier versions of questionable news are articles coming from some liberal or right-wing so-called “research” organizations that often rely on “junk science” to convince readers that what they report is true. Examples are those sponsored by tobacco companies that quoted medical studies claiming that smoking isn’t harmful and those sponsored by the fossil fuel industry that claim burning fossil fuels isn’t contributing to climate change. Special interest “think tanks” search for easily bought scientists and other so-called experts willing to support their agendas and preserve their profits. A quick Google search for “liberal think tanks” and “right-wing think tanks” results in the names of those biased sources of information.

Political ads attacking candidates and sponsored by special interest groups always should be questioned and the information researched before believing what they claim. They’re often misleading or contain outright lies, leave out important facts or base their attacks on information from fake news sites.

Users of Facebook and other social media sites can attest to the large number of misleading or fake news stories and memes they see every day. Just last week, a left-wing source created a meme showing former President Barack Obama and his family supposedly handing out meals at a shelter for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Anyone who actually looked at it could see how young his daughters were and should have known the photo was taken several years ago. Still, people shared it.

Those on the right shared what they claimed was a photo of first lady Michelle Obama shopping immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. First of all, the photo was of Condoleezza Rice, who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush. Also, Katrina hit in 2005, and Barack Obama wasn’t elected president until 2008. Still, it was shared widely and believed by many.

Some shady media sources like those we see at the super market or online spread fake news through sensational headlines. A lot of people neglect to read the articles and believe whatever the headlines say. If they actually read the article, they may see how exaggerated and misleading the headlines are.

When I used to get Fox and MSNBC, I realized they don’t necessarily lie as much as leave out important information if it goes against their agendas. No matter which side does it, it’s a deliberate attempt to mislead viewers.

So, how can we know what’s real and what’s fake? Snopes.com provides clues under “Quick ways to spot fake news.” It suggests that readers check the date on the article and, if it’s old, research the topic to see if it was resolved or debunked. It also suggests checking how many sources there are and warns that single-sourced “news items” usually are hoaxes.

Longtime, credible news sources are The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, Time Magazine, CBS, NBC, and ABC news. Credible newspapers get their stories from their own reporting and wire services like the Associated Press and Reuters which are verified before being published. If there are errors, all of those sources make corrections.

It’s up to us to check the facts and use common sense to determine whether information is fake or real. Otherwise, we’re only looking for things that agree with our opinions and rejecting true information we don’t want to hear. That’s dangerous.

Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 30 years. Contact her at patnash5149@gmail.com.