The proliferation of false stories on social media is the news right now. As more viral fake news headlines make the rounds on social media, scores of people are being mislead. People are believing news that isn't true.
During the recently concluded 2016 U.S. presidential election and campaigns, the churn of fake news became more prominent than ever before. Hoax news websites spewed exceedingly misleading or fabricated news stories mixed with true or mostly true stories about the election.
These fake news stories were deliberately crafted to demonize or elevate presidential candidates. Among the many fake news items you probably spotted was this one story with the headline... “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement.”
Across the pond in the U.K., false news is also a growing problem. For example, there was a fake story - not least because the author is "Doug Trench" - shared on social media with the headline… “Britain Threatens to Invade Switzerland Over Tobleron Shape Row.”
In Canada, there was another widely shared fake scoop that Canada's leader reportedly would give to the Rochdale Herald newspaper... “Truedue Promises Canadian Citizen A Wall. U.S. Will Pay.”
All these false stories are designed to be believed, and are aggressively shared on social networks like Facebook.
The sheer size and alarming reach of Facebook has prompted many critics, including President Barack Obama, to call out the social networking giant for proliferating fake news. Critics accuse Facebook, and to a much lesser extent Google, of influencing the U.S. elections by incentivizing fake political news.
“Google has more of an incentive to make information reliable because Google’s business is based on providing accurate information to people who are looking for it,” David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at the New School, and an expert in advertising tech, told The Washington Post. “Facebook, though, is about attention, not so much intention.”
While Facebook has denied that fake news on its platform influenced the elections, the attention was enough for both the California-based social networking service and Google to announce plans to combat the problem through restrictions on advertising.
It's worth mentioning that some fake-news writes have reported earning as much as $10,000 a month from self-service ad technologies like Google AdSense, which is a big incentive to make stuff up and put it on the Internet.
Facebook and Google’s plan to crackdown on fake-news sites using their respective advertising services is a welcome move to stifle these hoax sites’ ad revenue incentive. However, some fake-news websites are not incentivized by ad revenue alone and may continue to produce fake stories.
Many fake-news websites merely exist as propaganda tools and, as Claire Wardle, from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism notes, "It's difficult for people scrolling through Facebook quickly, often on small mobile screens, to get a sense of what's real and what isn't."
So, how can you identify a hoax story on social networks like Facebook and avoid being duped?
Fake-news sites vary in sophistication. Many of them have little or no name recognition. A quick tour of the usual suspects makes it clear that they don’t really put much thought into the design or functionality of the site. Others are cluttered, filled with barely readable text and, frankly, tough on the eye.
Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of media studies at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, recently put together a useful list she calls "False, Misleading, Clickbait-y and Satirical 'News' Sources." Zimdars' list features over 120 fake-news sites, some of which include Politicalo and abcnews.com.co, and adds handy tips that can help you break down some of the red flags that identify purveyors of fake stories on social media.
Here are Zimdars’ tips to spot fake news on social media:
Overall, spotting fake news is not always easy, but if a story seems a little bit unbelievable—it probably is.
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