Fake News is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. Fake News is related to propaganda whose purpose is to spread information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. But what makes it important now? It is primarily because fake news is easy to create, spreads rapidly and is easily consumed in our 24/7 news cycle. And it isn't as obvious what is fake news anymore, not like the examples below.
Fake News is easy to fall for, for a number of reasons:
We all have biases. However, it is up to us to recognize those biases and keep them in check.
Implicit bias: implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Implicit bias is grounded in a basic human tendency to divide the social world into groups. We are inclined to trust people we consider a member of our own group more than those of a different group. Social media (facebook, twitter and the like) tend cultivate an information bubble - friends and family that share the same values and points of view.
Confirmation bias: is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. We don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our preconceived notion of how things are supposed to be.
Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “post-truth” era. Journal of applied research in memory and cognition, doi:10.1016/j.jarmac.2017.07.008
Tarran, B. (2017). Why facts are not enough in the fight against fake news. Significance, 14(5), 6-7. doi:10.1111/j.1740-9713.2017.01066.x
In the most general form, fake news has three characteristics:
A news story is not fake simply because it is impolite or inconvenient. A news story that challenges your beliefs or values isn't fake news. A news story that is rejected by those in power does not make that story a fake news story either. Case in point, Richard Nixon denied his involvement in Watergate at first too.
No media outlet, even an established one, is completely bias free. All media selects which story is newsworthy. It is important to recognize that our news outlets will have a readership and stories are written for a particular reader. Bias differs from fake news in that fake news is specifically untrue. Biased sources don't necessarily use lies, they just don't include the whole picture, only using the facts that support their viewpoint. By using only the facts that support their cause they are giving an incomplete and therefore inaccurate picture.
When determining bias look at:
Davis, J. (1990). Beyond the myth of objectivity. Media&Values, (50) Retrieved from http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/news-beyond-myth-objectivity
Review the web address or URL. If you see an address that is unfamiliar, do a little digging.
There are websites that spoof legitimate news sites - mimic the site's layout, logo and even have a web address that is similar enough to the legitimate website. Be wary of fake news sites sometimes have domains that are very close to real news sites.
Abcnews.go.com -- the real ABC news website
Abcnews.com.co -- the fake ABC news website
If words like “.wordpress” or “blogger” are in the domain that usually signifies it’s a personal blog rather than a news source.
In other social media platforms you may have to scrutinize the username as well. In late 2016, there was an announcement from what appeared to be a BBC twitter account declaring that Queen Elizabeth II had died. It was shared thousands of times before people started to notice that the username was a variation on the real BBC twitter username. The real BBC twitter username is: @BBCNews and this account was tweeting from @BBCNewsUKI A close enough match that it fooled thousands of people.
Look for an "About Us" page and read it.
Be wary of websites that don't tell you about the website.
There are websites that have, at first glance, innocuous content. For example, this Martin Luther King website which lists historical writings and "the truth" about King. But look closer.. at the bottom of the page there is a link that states that this website is hosted by Stormfront.
When you click on the link, you are sent to a neo-Nazi website.
Does the website have a lot of ads? Flashing banners? Pop up ads?
A great deal of money is made by websites through advertising. When you visit a website with lots of ads, you have to ask yourself, what is the purpose of the website? To transmit news? Or to generate income through advertising?
Established news webpages will have some advertising. It really comes down to the proportion of advertising versus news stories.
The example below is fake news for a number of reasons, but look at the prominence and the amount of advertising on this site.
Look for elements that you would expect from an established news source. Such elements are:
Photos play a large part in evoking an emotion when reading a story. Photos can play into our implicit and confirmation biases. It is easy to save photos off the internet and use them in non-related fake news stories.
Photos can also be photoshopped. We've all seen incredible photos online. When you see something fantastic or unbelieveable, consult your factchecking sites to see if the image has already been debunked.
You can use google image search to help determine the original source of the image. This is especially useful when you see photos that are too good to be true or seem suspect. On the right you see the original photo of President Obama. On the left, you see the photo has been switched and someone photoshopped a picture of a cigarette in his mouth. The doctored photo was shared widely in an attempt to paint President Obama as a liar who had publicly stated that he quit smoking.
To create a website, not on a blogging platform such as blogger, you have to register your website. You can run the URL of a webpage through who.is or whois.icann.org to see when and who set up the website.
If a website was just recently established, that can be a red flag.
If the website is registered in another country, but posts predominately on stories outside of that country, that can be a red flag.
If the website is registered to an individual, but the website seems to be representing a corporation, that can be a red flag.
People or bots who make fake news create headlines that spark a strong emotional response. Headlines in all CAPS or headlines that are sensational are likely to get shared more frequently. Most fake news stories are shared based on the headline alone and the stories aren't necessarily read. Go past the headline and critically read the story.
For example, this fake news story has an incredibly sensational headline. However, when you read the story you discover that the authors make claims without any supportive documentation, use sensational language throughout the story, don't share their methodology for data collection, editorialize and make suggestive comments within the story. And the same story, word for word, is shared among many other fake news sites.
Before sharing that scintillating quote, copy and paste it into a search engine to verify if it is real or not.
There are non-partisan fact checking organizations that verify information. These are great places to see if that story or image is real or not.
Most fact checking organizations focus on political issues. Snopes is a great place for verifying other types of fake news content.
Be savvy information consumers. Stop sharing content that you don't know is true.
Anderson, J., & Rainie, L. (2017). The future of the internet and misinformation online. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2017/10/19095643/PI_2017.10.19_Future-of-Truth-and-Misinformation_FINAL.pdf
On The Media. (2013). The breaking news consumer's handbook. Retrieved from https://www.wnyc.org/story/breaking-news-consumers-handbook-pdf/
Karlsson, E. (2017). How to defeat technological filter bubbles that skew your world. Retrieved from https://debunkingdenialism.com/2017/01/11/how-to-defeat-technological-filter-bubbles-that-skew-your-world/
Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2004). The thinker’s guide for conscientious citizens on how to detect media bias & propaganda. Retrieved from: http://kurtlancaster.com/socfilm/week11/MediaBias2006-DC.pdf