False news stories have probably existed since the dawn of time but the term really hit headlines in 2016.
Since then, there has barely been a day pass by when the term fake news hasn’t been discussed somewhere in the media.
It’s not a new phenomenon
Fake news used to be called propaganda and has been routinely deployed in times of war and political conflict, and it still is. But how can you separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak and determine what is fake news and what is not. We’re not necessarily talking about the ‘Elvis is alive on the moon’ type of nonsense – that is too obvious, but fake news per se can be difficult to spot.
… and it’s widespread
The rise of the internet and its myriad of news outlets has enabled the rise of fake news as more organisations and individuals use the world wide web’s many platforms to push a particular point of view either for monetary gain, for example through advertising add-ons, or for the purpose of emotional manipulation in order to spark action. During the US Presidential election campaign both sides were liberal in their use of fake news in order to garner votes and destabilise opponents – and, the more outrageous they got, the more confused and emotional voters tended to become. On any social media platform, the more salacious a story is the more likely it is to be noticed – and go viral – and this momentum will lead more people to believe what they read. This could be a clue when spotting fake news; if a story is too outrageous then it’s likely to be untrue. And if a ‘news’ story attracts lots of high-profile advertising this could also indicate a made-up story. It’s a fact that a throwaway comment made on Twitter or facebook, especially if made by a politician or celebrity, will garner more publicity than one made in mainstream media and it is more likely to be believed.
What’s being done, and what can I do?
Facebook are discussing placing flags on questionable news stories to alert readers of potential dispute. Otherwise, when reading internet news stories look out for obvious anomalies like ‘.com.co’ domain names and beware of quotes that you can’t find on Google (that’s because they weren’t said). And if a major story breaks on an unknown website the chances are it’s not true. Check their ‘About Us’ page and look for genuine address and purpose details. Finally, if you Google the name of the article contributor you may find a made-up name to go with the made-up story – a sure sign it’s not something you should take as gospel.
We’re not suggesting that everything you read on the internet is fake, and there are certainly lots of great reliable sources out there, but knowing how to check a story’s authenticity before sharing the news with your social circle online will certainly spare you the embarrassment of spreading fake news yourself.