The problem of ‘Fake News’ has elicited alarm among individuals and institutions from all over the world in the past year thanks to the alleged role it played in the US Presidential elections. And although it may seem that fake news is another untoward effect of the ‘internet generation’, the reality is that it has been around for as long as news has existed!
What is Fake News?
False information published under the guise of authentic and legitimate news stories is called as fake news. Fake news stories are of two types – deliberately false stories and stories where the facts are not entirely accurate. The motivations behind such publications are generally monetary (attract traffic to the site and/or increase advertising income) but could also be personal (harm the reputation of another person/entity) or political (influence the public’s viewpoint), among other motivations.
It is important to know that today, the term ‘fake news’ is also used sarcastically, to describe a piece of information that someone doesn’t like.
Evolution of Fake News
The distribution of misinformation has actually been around for centuries using common literary forms as its hosts.
But, with the advent of democracy and freedom of speech, creators of content obtained the creative license to produce information of all types. News articles slowly began to be written with an ‘agenda’ in mind and were no longer unbiased. Stories began to be subtly opinionated.
By 1990’s, the internet began to spur the growth of fake news by providing mediums to easily distribute the information and/or make money. Today, ‘digital opportunists’ are lurking in every corner of the world creating fake stories that ride on people’s ideologies and insecurities.
Role of Social Media
It is no surprise that fake news spread like wildfire because of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Fake news creators share their content on Facebook in order to make the story go viral and some of them even have Facebook pages that are liked by thousands of people.
Due to this, Facebook has started implementing various new measures to counter the role it’s playing in the dispersion of fake news. These measures include developing methods to identify authentic content, predicting which posts may become relevant, providing users the ability to flag false content, and working with real human fact checkers. Similar measures are being deployed by other social media platforms too.
Google has also rolled out its ‘Fact Check’ tag on search results. The tag shows up below articles that include information facts checked by news publishers and fact-checking organizations. However, it is unfair to rely on social media platforms and search engines to do all the work to police fake news. We need to start doing our bit too.
How to recognize a fake story?
It is wrong to believe that sites with ‘large traffic’ are legitimate and therefore do not have fake stories. Such sites may also create and propagate fake news. It is, therefore, the need of the hour to educate ourselves on recognising fake stories and preventing its spread. There are several ways to do this:
– Be sceptical of what you read, especially the headlines
If the story sounds unbelievable just from the headline, it probably is. False news stories also have catchy headlines in caps with exclamation points.
– Investigate the source
They are many sites established for the sole purpose of spreading fake news. How Macedonian teenagers made millions during the US elections is an example of this. So, check if the story is written by a credible source and if you are not familiar with it, go to the ‘About’ page and learn more.
– Look at the timelines
If the events in the article timeline don’t add up, the story is fake.
– Check the evidence and the story
Think critically. Are the facts backed up? Are other sources saying the same story? Compare the story with other reports.
– Educate yourself and others
Educate yourself and others on how to recognise fake news and not fall for such stories. Keep abreast of the developments taking place in this area. There are also several fact-checking sites that you can visit.
You can also read up Facebook’s tips on spotting fake news – https://www.facebook.com/help/188118808357379?helpref=search&sr=1&query=fake%20news
Some Examples of Fake News –
“LOSE 30 KGS IN 1 WEEK!!”
“YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT…!”
“WHAT __ IS HIDING FROM THE PUBLIC!!”
“A secret NO-ONE will tell you about…”
“Here’s what REALLY happened between __ and __”
We hope this article has enlightened you about what fake news stories look and sound like and has encouraged you to be more vigilant and critical of what you read. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon? Let us know in the comments below!