Before now, there was news and then there was “not news.” But as Facebook and Twitter have become the main sources for news and the spreading of international information, a new brand of news known as “fake news” has evolved.
Fake news has virtually nothing to do with The Onion or The Borowitz Report. According to the “Guardian US,” fake news is “completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit.” Fake news has even been circulated by reputable and mainstream news sources, such as “The Washington Post” and even the “New York Times.” This doesn’t mean everything “The Times” or “The Post” publishes is fake, but there have been instances where it has been the case.
This type of misleading news is not confined to major news corporations, however. The definition can often be expanded to include websites that circulate misconstrued and doubtful information through clickbaiting headlines. Clickbait doesn’t reflect the facts of the story and declares bias. These stories seem to be true and are exciting to click on, especially on Facebook, where it can reach an audience of about 1.8 billion people.
One example of fake news is the Pizzagate incident, in which a North Carolina man fired a gun in a Washington pizzeria. An online conspiracy theory purported the pizzeria to be the headquarters of a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton. The theory took root on Reddit and gained significant momentum for a poll of 1,224 registered voters. The poll revealed 14% of Trump supporters believed the story to be true.
And to their credit, it’s not easy to differentiate the two. Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed over 7800 responses from middle school to college students in 12 states concerning the ability of these students to assess information sources. The results were shocking, causing the researchers to be dismayed at the lack of ability to differentiate an article from an advertisement. But it’s not that the readers are incompetent or even gullible: the problem lies within the formatting and the outlandishness of the “too good to be true” stories themselves.
With fake news on the rise, it is evident this new wave of false information needs to be combated. Facebook is taking steps to help with the process of separating fake news from real news. Facebook will send alerts telling users which articles are “disputed by 3rd party fact checkers,” much like the extensions Slate and Google Chrome provide when browsing the web. If unsure of site’s legitimacy, just check the address bar and look for any “com.co” or check its About Us section. The easiest way to make sure a site is real is to research any of its quotes on Google. If the quotes don’t show up or link to another fake news article, then it’s a fake news article.
Stop the spreading of fake news by doing one simple thing: share links responsibly. Don’t “hate-share” or “hate-click” on stories designed to make people angry (within reason). And if there are still people out there who believe the Onion is “real,” break it to them gently. Friends don’t let friends share fake news.