In a bid to curb the growing problem of fake news appearing in its feeds, Facebook took the proactive step last week of showing people how to spot it. It is hoped that users will simply stop sharing once they know something is fake. Some feel this has not gone far enough while others have pointed to a lack of critical thinking in the education system. Whichever way we perceive the problem, it is something we need to tackle.
What is Fake News?
Fake news is exactly what it sounds like – an article presented as a news item describing events that never took place. You’ve probably heard how Denzil Washington endorsed Donald Trump. You might even have heard how police battered protestors at Standing Rock. Neither story is true. Sometimes, even mainstream media pick them up and run stories on the say so of a blog. Just because it appears in your favourite newspaper, it doesn’t mean it is true. However, be careful not to mistake fake news for any of the following:
- A story loaded with political bias. News items are inherently biased, but that doesn’t mean they are not true
- A story where facts are twisted for sensationalism. This is similar to bias, but it will contain facts and comments twisted beyond original intent. There may be no specific political agenda, but a desire to sell newspapers or increase the number of shares
- Satire – a story designed as an outrageous manipulation for the purpose of amusement, not antagonism
The first two issues are problematic, but they are separate issues from fake news.
Why is Facebook Taking This Step?
Facebook is the world’s largest social network. It is also a major way through which most of us learn about events as they happen. There are drawbacks and benefits to this, but it’s important to remember that Facebook is not a news outlet. It is a channel for information dissemination. The social network came in for fierce criticism during both the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Elections. Both sides were accused of spreading fake news; some people feel that malevolent misinformation swayed both polls.
Regardless of which way anybody votes in any election, it is concerning that fake news stories are allowed to sway and influence the outcome of a vote. Fake news stokes prejudices; it makes people fear and sows mistrust against individuals and groups.
How to Spot Fake News
Facebook is partnering with a number of fact checking organisations. In the UK, they are working with Full Fact. Together, they have compiled a list of ways to spot fake news.
- Do not take the headline at face value; read the article. Shockingly, 60% of people share articles without reading them. At the very least, ensure the article says what the headline suggests it says
- Check the website address. Do you recognise the website? Is it claiming to be a reputable source but the site doesn’t look right? Fake sites will have URLs such as uk-bbc.com. They may even mimic the format of well-known news sites
- Not all sources are created equal. Anybody can write anything and put it on the internet. Use a search engine to see if anybody else is reporting it. It is highly unlikely that a random blogger will be privy to news stories that the world’s major news sources will not
- Are the photographs manipulated? It can take time to develop a keen eye for faked photos, although your brain will tell you that something isn’t right. A recent example is an image of Tony Blair sitting and reading a newspaper with his feet resting on the coffin of a dead soldier. This never happened