Because, in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, the truth is “complicated.”
Fake news is far more likely to go viral than real news. Observe. Which of these headlines do you think got the most shares?
“An FBI agent suspected in Clinton’s email leaks found dead in an apparent murder-suicide.” The Denver Guardian
“No criminality in Clinton emails” – BBC
As you probably guessed, the first one way outperformed the second on social media. Scary, damning and with all the sensationalism of a Hollywood thriller, this headline has it all. The main problem is that not only is it not true, “The Denver Guardian” does not exist as a newspaper.
Normally the fallout from this kind of hoax would die down in a couple of days, but when you take into consideration that 62 percent of US adults get their news from social media, compared to the two-in-ten that still rely on print newspapers, it becomes a different story.
We’ll never know for sure just what impact unsubstantiated news stories had on the final result. Did fake news help Trump to an all-too-real victory?
As you might expect, this has got a lot of politicians and journalists quite riled up – arguing that social media has become an unexpected threat to the political establishment.
While there are numerous investigations into counterfeit content creators and initiatives to rid social media of hoaxers, there is only one question that matters – how do you spot a fake news story?
Where are we getting our news from?
It’s easy to cast judgement on the US, but we’re actually no better on this side of the pond. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that social media has even overtaken television as young people’s main source of news in the UK, undermining traditional business models.
Facebook ranked as the top social network for news. However, this is somewhat worrying for those interested in impartiality, as Gizmodo recently discovered that Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s ‘trending’ news section.
Some would argue that fake news is nothing new , but in this instance, social media has become a game changer.
This could be one of the reasons why fake news has become more common, with online users only choosing to see what they want to see, a cornerstone of social media. But once more, this is a reason to question the legitimacy of sites like Facebook and Twitter for news. So, how has it come to this?
Who do we trust for news?
Perhaps the most startling statistic about trust in the media comes from Gallup and its annual poll, which shows trust in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly”, has dropped to its lowest level in history.
In fact, just 32 per cent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of such confidence, which is much lower than the post-Watergate 72 per cent rating in 1972.
In the UK, a mere 25 per cent of the UK public trust journalists to tell the truth according to Ipsos Mori results. Wider research across Europe reveals only 22 per cent of Brits trust the press, which is the lowest rating on the continent.
Commentators believe a lot comes down to the term ’post-truth,’ which was declared international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries and is defined as a situation ‘in which objective facts are less influential than appeals to emotion.’
This could be another indication that social media users are only reading news articles that support their worldview. But that doesn’t mean to say you can simply accept every agreeable story on Facebook or Twitter, as there is every chance it won’t be genuine.
How do you identify a genuine news story?
Until social media manages to find a way to filter out fake news stories, it is up to individual users to make the distinction for themselves. Here’s how:
Read more than the headline – Several social media users will not read past the headline or opening paragraph before sharing, when the rest of the article contains false or irrelevant information.
Verify the source – While satirical sites will openly admit to spoof stories, other sites unashamedly attempt to mimic major news outlets. So, always Google your source to verify its identity and be aware of unprofessional pages plastered with ads.
Check the time and date – Yesterday’s news used to be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, but stories published online don’t disappear. This means certain articles or events resurface and can trick unsuspecting users.
See who wrote the story – A simple search of the author’s name should reveal their previous stories and whether they are a legitimate journalist or not.
Look at links and sources – If a news story doesn’t feature many links, then its probably not very trustworthy. Sources that are mentioned should also be investigated and verified.
Query questionable content – Fake news creators have no problem with inventing false quotes and attributing them to celebrities or public figures. The same goes for editing and photoshopping images. This means you must query any questionable content.
Beware of bias – There is nothing wrong with sharing a story that supports your opinion and ideology. But stories that are heavily biased one way or another could well be fake.
Search for similar stories – Perhaps the best way of identifying a truthful story is to search the web for similar content. If major news outlets are also reporting the same thing, you know it’s genuine.