“Real” fake news (not what Donald Trump claims is fake) has spread like wildfire across the screens we read every day… or every 15 minutes.
It’s gotten to the point that I see it every day, posted by friends, especially shared on Facebook. It’s hard to know where the truth lies, as you flip through and pass dozens of headlines.
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered where it’s all come from, why, who it benefits, and how we can stop it.
Well firstly, it’s making some people a lot of money.
When an article is shared 50,000 times, the ad revenue on those sites is making it rain for someone.
Their point is to be as shareable as possible, as “buyable” as possible, so in that respect there’s a similarity to traditional print tabloids, which looked a bit like a newspaper or magazine, but where fact checking was not a top concern.
Secondly, we’ve now learned, and are just coming to grasp the full extent, that there are geo-political goals of fake news, with armies of article writers and comment trolls throwing fake content onto the web, to drive the American public apart.
Although we don’t even have to look as far as Russia, for many within their own country have the same goals.
So whether for domestic or international politics, for profit, sowing confusion, ideology or products, this stuff is prolific, easily shared with a scan and a click.
Here are some ways to spot fake news, so you can do your part to shut it down:
- Take a look at a lot of articles on your feed and you’ll notice they share the extact same design format, especially on your mobile device. With a big photo and social media sharing tools at the top, and some kind of author before the article text. They’re super simple sites with few standard menus or contact info. Not each site that uses this format is fake news, but if you have them on your feed and click you’ll start to see what I’m talking about.
- The author of these pieces is usually not a listed person at all. Take a look before you read the story, and instead of an writer’s full name you’ll find a word, the name of a site or group, or something that just doesn’t make sense. Real news is produced by journalists, and blogs by individuals. You can’t trust something that no one will sign their name to. (An exception may be newspaper editorials, unsigned but written by the paper’s editorial board).
- Often fake news will be about some new research or crazy story that gives you a wow/huh, but seems plausible, so you click n share. When journalists write a story based on new research, they’ll quote study authors, and usually will now link to the study itself – in a journal, a university site, etc. With fake news there are plenty of links, but they go to another story which links to a blog, and you never get back to the original study. They’re all fake news.
- A lot of these stories have an ounce of truth. They aren’t typically 100% false, but often take some past story or tidbit and blow it way out of proportion. This is particularly true of stories about some food that is super toxic or super a super health booster, or about a particular group of people they’re trying to scare you into hating, like refugees. This is where spreading disinformation can get downright dangerous for people. You’re likely to share it if it confirms your own personal bias, especially with that nugget of truth.
It’s time we get smarter about what we share online, that we have some confidence that what we share isn’t full of lies or half-truths. Check for links, and if you’re still unsure, search further into the topic or look up the headline on a site like Snopes that’s done the research for us.
If enough of us care, hopefully Facebook and other platforms will start catching up and do the same.
Darcy Higgins is a real person living in Toronto. He is the Partner the social venture Building Roots, a consultant, activist and writer on food, sustainability and community building.