Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fake News – How to Spot It And What to Do About It

In 2017 fake news became a mainstream concern and many wondered if there is anything that can be done about it.

The first step is to acknowledge that we each have a role to play in its spread and rise to prominence. Then the next logical question is: What can we do about it?

The first thing is recognize fake news "in the wild." And if you think this is challenging you’re absolutely right.

A February, 2017 study in Britain found that only 4 percent of 1,684 UK adults surveyed could correctly identify whether six news stories were true or fake.

But take action we must, so:

11 Ways Spot Fake News

The now-suspended site abcnews.com.co
Does the story come from a strange URL? Sites with strange suffixes like ".co" or ".su," or that are hosted by third party platforms such as WordPress or sources such as ViralLiberty or National Report are trouble. For instance, several fake reports from abcnews.com.co went viral before being debunked. Did you note the ".com.co" at the end of that address?

Does everything match? The headline and the content, for example? A sure sign of something less-than-reliable is an image of an attractive woman (likely a stock image) and a headline that says something like " NY Homeowners Get a Huge Surprise.”

Is the story only on one website? If it is really a big or important story why is it only in one place? A quick Google search should find many other versions of a legitimate story.

Is it on a site known to be unreliable? There are plenty of places to find out if a site is likely to be spreading fake news. For example:
The fake Viral Liberty story
Is it a recent story, or an old one that has been re-purposed?  For example, the website Viral Liberty reported that as a result of Donald Trump’s election to the White House Ford would move its truck manufacturing from Mexico to U.S. But the move happened in 2015. Again, a Google search will likely turn up the earlier story.

Does the article cite primary sources? For example, in 2016 Coca-Cola allegedly recalled Dasani water bottles after a "clear parasite" was found in the water. But nowhere on the web was there a statement from Coca-Cola or Dasani about this.

This was never printed in People magazine
Are there traceable quotes in the story? People magazine has huge archives, but no trace of the alleged quote of Donald Trump stating that if he ran for office he’d run as a Republican because "they're the dumbest group of voters."

Although all over the web this image is, well, fake
Are supporting videos and photos verifiable? During the 2017 flooding in Houston Fox News host Jesse Watters fell for the fake shark photo doing the rounds on the web that reputedly showed a shark swimming on a flooded highway.

Does it support your existing point of view? If a story is odd, bizarre or surprising and yet supports something you’ve always suspected, beware of your own "confirmation bias." Again look for evidence that it really is true.

Has it been debunked by a reputable fact-checking organization? There are a lot of trustworthy fact-checking websites out there. A small sample:
Now that you’ve identified it as fake news what can you do about it?

5 Keys to Fighting Fake News

Have a "healthy amount of skepticism" and think, really think, before sharing a piece of news.
Considering all of the points above, am I ABSOLUTELY sure this story is true?

Be a little slower to share and re-tweet content. Especially do not share anything just based on the headline or a picture that caught your eye. Read what you want to share.

Report all fake news There are multiple ways to do this. Start with the source, if possible, and then report it on the platform where you found it. For example:
On Twitter (while on the post with the fake news) you’ll need to click the chevron in the corner or the three dots under a tweet, then chose "report tweet."
On Google you scroll to the bottom of the offending page and click on "Send feedback" where you’ll have the option of including a screenshot.

Call out fake news to whoever posted it You should be polite and message privately (if you can), but you need to do this. And if this doesn’t work…

Use the comments area under a post to state the truth. A best practice is to include a link – a link to a verifiable source to reinforce the point.

Now you know both how to spot fake news and how to fight it – happy hunting. The more each of us does the less fake news will make its way into our newsfeeds.


2017 Was the Year of Fake News – It’s Our Fault

The year 2017 is likely to be remembered as the year of fake news.

Politicians, one Tweeter-in-Chief for example, uttered the term "fake news" regularly. 

Social platforms, Facebook and Twitter in particular, were accused of making it easy for "fake news" to spread.

New organizations, major newspapers and national news networks all felt it important to cover the issue of "fake news" regularly.
Ben Franklin - founding father
of fake news

All of which might have left you wondering: How did we get here?

The real answer is that fake news has been around forever. Just ask Benjamin Franklin, who in 1782 made a fake issue of a Boston newspaper which carried a false, but widely circulated, story alleging the British had hired Native Americans to scalp colonists. The purpose of the propaganda was to drum up sympathy for the American Revolutionary cause.

                Almost forever, people have found it "useful" to plant fake news stories to advance a cause. It’s just that in our modern hyper-connected world it is so much easier to have the source of such things become blurred and have the fake news spread much more quickly.

                One other thing that hasn’t changed is that fake news thrives because we are part of the problem:

6 Reasons Fake News is Our Fault
  • We are open to the idea that fantastical stuff is possible: – It’s why certain TV shows and supermarket tabloids such as the Weekly World News have always thrived.
  • We tend to shut out ideas and opinions we disagree with: It’s human nature to not be inclined to listen those who say things we already disagree with.
  • We allow "confirmation bias" to guide our decision making: This bias is where we gravitate to ideas that conform to what we already think. Which leads to …
  • We don’t take the time to verify what we share. You may recall the famous Internet meme that makes fun of this: "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity" – Abraham Lincoln.
  • We often see "others" – those whom we don’t know well – as two-dimensional (and social media encourages this). This makes it easier to demonize and disregard the views of others.
  • Real news and real journalists are a shrinking breed As news consumers we have been less and less willing to pay for our news by buying newspapers or watching TV news. Since nature (and news) abhors a vacuum – something has to fill the gap and that something can be news of spurious origins.

So, now we know why it might be our fault. But did you know that there are different types of fake news?

The infographic below is a starter guide – perhaps you can think of others….

What do you think? Are we to blame for the spread and general occurrence of fake news today?