How to spot fake news
This year fake news came of age. And not in a good way.
The phenomenon first took centre stage during last year’s U.S. Presidential election, with false stories weaponised by Trump supporters, with the intention of causing maximum damage to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In fact, BuzzFeed discovered fake news stories drew more shares and engagement during the final three months of the campaign than legitimate reports from the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times. That is astonishing.
Since then, fake news has seeped into the public consciousness on a global scale – with social media fanning the flames. We’ve seen Alex Baldwin supposedly arrested for assaulting Trump at the Emmy’s, Katy Perry brokering peace with ISIS, and NASA warning the planet would be plunged into 15 days of darkness in November!
Sceptics may downplay the era of fake news, but it’s a global problem now. The BBC’s survey of 18 countries revealed 79% of respondents were worried about what was fake and what was real online. And a recent survey showed millennials get 74% of their news from online sources (Media Insight Project), so there’s a real danger of things spiralling out of control. The long term decline of traditional news media hasn’t helped things either. They’re the so-called ‘guardians of the truth’ and without them as comparisons, calling out phonies will only become more difficult.
But surely only a dummy would fall for a fake news story? Not so fast. Many news formats are easy to imitate, and plenty of sites now look professional and polished. The good news is the web giants are finally starting to get their acts together too. In Canada, Google is helping to fund NewsWise, a classroom initiative aimed at teaching kids how to detect a false story. Google also has various Chrome plug-ins that can detect fake stories as you browse. Its rival, Facebook, is also referring suspected hoax stories to fact-checkers before flagging dubious stories with an alert that says ‘Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers.’
Meanwhile, how does Joe Public spot a fake story? These simple steps should help you distinguish the dodgy from the dope.
- Look for dodgy domain names such as .com.co
- Check the author – do a quick search on them to find out if they’re real or credible
- Delve further into a site’s ‘About Us’ section
- Google the sources of any quotes or statistics – most fake new stories don’t have either
- Is it a joke? If it’s just too hard to believe, maybe it’s satire