Turn on your fake news radar

fake news Susan Crowell

The big screen behind Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it all: “Give everyone the power to share anything with anyone.”

The words were part of Zuckerberg’s presentation at a conference last April, and they are powerful. In today’s 24/7/365, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, online social media world, information is received — and shared — faster than you can type 140 characters.

But they’re also scary. Everyone is now a source of information, and everyone can now share anything with everyone — whether or not it’s true. Bon jour.

So it’s not surprising that people create (and other people share) “fake news” — news that has no factual basis, but is presented as facts. For example, in October, a fake website that looked like ABC News, published a fake story that then-President Barack Obama had banned reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. According to one source, it generated more than 2.1 million shares, comments and reactions on Facebook in just two months.

And a December 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center found slightly more than two out of 10 people have shared a made-up news story.

(Here’s a list of fake news sites, if you want to become better aware of your sources.)

In December, Facebook announced it is working harder to weed out fake news by working with third party fact checkers.

But what role does “everyone” play in perpetuating fake news? To quote JFK (who quoted the gospel of Luke), “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.”

You play a major role in rejecting fake news. First, before you hit “share” or “retweet,” actually read the article with a healthy dose of skepticism. Fakers are betting you won’t even do that, but will simply share the information based on its headline shock value.

When BuzzFeed News interviewed fake news writer Dave Weasel in May, he estimated roughly a third of the people who shared one of his hoax articles believed it to be true. “‘Most of the people that share it do not read it,’” he said.

Second, consider the source. Traditional news sources — trained journalists — don’t make stuff up. We verify, we doublecheck, As the old journalism saying goes, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

Yes, reporters can be fooled, too, sometimes because we want a story to be true, but journalists do work hard to verify their information. Your trust in us is hard to earn, and so easily broken, that we don’t take this responsibility lightly.

And no matter what your partisan beliefs or political leanings are, recognize that information from those sites are often slanted to provide information from a certain point of view. Sometimes we get fooled by these, too, because they might not be as obvious as a fake news site, or they may mix factual stories with a little side of fiction.

There may be a root of truth in a story that gets twisted with a whole bunch of conjecture and misinformation by the time it gets to you. Remember the old “telephone” game where one person whispers a message to the ear of the next person through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group? Some fake news is a lot like that.

For example, there was an article last year claiming Hillary Clinton wanted Donald Trump to run for president in 2013, providing a quote. Wrong. She never said that about Trump, but did say that more business people should run for office.

Third, at the very least, check snopes.com or other sources to see if the “news” is an urban legend or if there’s more information behind the clickbait headline. A recent article explains more about the Feb. 2 Congressional joint resolution to block implementation of an Obama administration coal mining regulation known as the Stream Protection Rule — to go beyond the headline “Did President Trump make it legal to dump coal mining waste into streams?”

You can also use FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, or www.politifact.com, both sites check the factual accuracy of what is said by major elected officials and others. FactCheck also operates SciCheck, which focuses on false and misleading scientific claims.

Digital and social media do give everyone a voice. Make sure yours is worth listening to.


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  1. Very nicely said Susan. Thanks for writing this I hope it gets many reads and posts and that people really think about this.


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