Real or fake news? A 7-step checklist to make sense of the headlines

by Pastor Edric Sng // May 25, 2018, 11:30 am

Newspaper headlines: How to tell real news from fake news

Photo by @rawpixel on Unsplash

We live in a world where fake news can impact elections.

We live in world where deliberate online falsehoods – fake news! – are rampant enough that governments are passing laws to mitigate against them, and hauling up technology executives to compel them to do more about the scourge.

We live in a world where the living are prematurely declared dead.

We live in a world where technology is so advanced that you can’t ever really be sure if what you’re seeing is the truth


I used to work for a large mainstream media agency, and learnt that even mainstream media was not immune to getting fooled. In the days leading up to the death of Lee Kuan Yew, we were surprised to find CNN breaking the news that he had died. How did they manage to learn of it before we did? It turns out, they didn’t – they had just been fooled by a hoax tweet.

As a former newsman, I get asked a lot to verify news and information floating around on WhatsApp. The truth is you don’t need a news editor to help you. After all, MSM editors are apparently still being misinformed by unidentified sources.

So if even experienced news editors fall for fakes, how can the person on the street be sure that what we’re reading is really real?

So if even experienced news editors fall for fakes, how can the person on the street be sure that what we’re reading is really real?

The answer is: You can’t. Not totally, anyway. If a hoaxer wants to hoax you badly enough, and has the resources to pull it off, it can be nearly impossible to discern what is real from what is fake.

But the least we can do is try. Rather than fall for everything hook, line and sinker – and rather than believe what we want to believe – we should put in place some filters and mental rigour to minimise the possibility of buying a lie.

Here’s what you should consider when you read an article or watch a news video. What you see here is basically what any decent reporter or editor would do when they come across any news story:


– Who owns the reporting agency?
– Does the agency or reporter have known biases/agenda?
– Do they have a track record of factual, objective reportage?
– What might the reporting agency or writer stand to benefit from the publication of this news? 

– Are there multiple sources?
– Are they named?
– Are they reliable?
– Can it be verified that the news actually came from the source?
– Does it sound like something that the source would have said/released?
– Do the sources have possible biases/agendas?
– What is the relationship between source and reporting agency?
– Is mischief a possibility?

– Does the report contain any contradictions?
– Does the report contain any inaccuracies or false assumptions?
– Does the reporter objectively and accurately interpret the primary source?
– Does anything set off alarm bells?

– Do the facts correspond between reports?
– Are there differing opinions?
– Are there camps of opinion built upon obvious lines?
– Is the report in line with past reports on the same topic? What is new? 

– What information is left out? Why might it have been omitted?
– What questions are left unasked? Why might they not have been asked?
– What questions are left unanswered? Could those answers be found elsewhere? 

– Are you reading the report objectively?
– Are you responding rationally or emotionally?
– Are you choosing your news sources wisely and objectively?
– Are you sufficiently informed to be discerning in this matter?

– How does Scripture tell you to respond to the news?
– How does the Spirit tell you to respond to the news?
– How do wise men of God tell you to respond to the news?
– If this runs counter to your personal perspective, are you able to be at peace with and submit to the leading of the Word and Holy Spirit?

That seems like a lot of bother …

It is. But what to do? The hoaxes aren’t going to end anytime soon. There are so many parties with so many agendas to push. So much media illiteracy causing so much misunderstanding.

Besides, good Christian, the Word of God compels us to seek wisdom and the truth.

Proverbs 1:22 holds the rebuke for those who refuse to guard themselves from being taken in: “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?”

Don’t be naive. Don’t be gullible. Don’t be simple-minded. Don’t be media-illiterate. Don’t be found unshrewd.

In the same chapter, Wisdom holds a warning that the lack of wisdom could be the death of us: “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:32-33)

So, what then shall we do? Get wisdom. No matter how much of a pain it is. “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7)

What this means it that as Christians, we are responsible for our levels of understanding. As Christians, the warning is: Don’t be naive. Don’t be gullible. Don’t be simple-minded. Don’t be media-illiterate. Don’t be found unshrewd. Especially if it ultimately is because of our complacency, laziness or passivity in not gaining understanding.

This is even more pertinent a warning given the world that we live in. We are warned about a time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Instead, we are called to be like men of Issachar, men who understand the times and know what we should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

A good place to start? Wisdom in understanding the news – and knowing how to respond to it.

About the author

Pastor Edric Sng

Edric was a news editor across digital, newspaper and TV newsrooms in Singapore before he gave it all up to start Christian websites Salt&Light,, 还好吗 and Stories of Hope. He's a father to six, and husband to one.