Fact: Fake News Isn’t New

While fake news isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s fairly worrying. False stories spread on social media – or, true stories embedded with fake facts and vice versa – have morphed into a modern, more terrifying and more impactful version of what the old-fashioned 1990s viral chain emails used to do (Fig.1).

HAUNTING Fig.1. Early 2000s chain email, apparently from Mother Teresa.

US Politics: The fusion of news and politics has created a whole new news stream

In the US, fake and misleading news is at peak popularity during elections and specifically the run-up. Stories that get the most hits during this time – upwards of 2 million – were stories that “fed into conspiracy theories,” according to a published interview with a fake news website owner. On May 18, 2017, the US Office of Science and Technology Policy addressed President Trump in a letter stating its concern that “disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration. You previously made the false claim that President Obama ordered your phones to be “tapped” based on false reports which have subsequently been contradicted by U.S intelligence officials,” it read. In other words, Trump got in trouble for believing and feeding the fake news that was served to him. Google has cracked down on fake news, illustrating its intolerance by disabling fake news’ ability to attract advertising revenue. However, results of these actions are yet to be reported. There have even been cases whereby non-researched media stories have been published supported by false facts linked directly to made-up chain emails from previous years.

Facebook’s fact checker: Will it work?

After acknowledging it had been somewhat taken over by fake news, Facebook recently began the rollout of a feature that flags certain posts as “disputed.” In some cases, however, this appears to be having the opposite effect to the one Facebook actually wanted. Some sources have reported that ‘disputed’ articles are still populating Facebook feeds without displaying warnings. Others have said traffic to fake news posts have increased after Facebook activated the service, which begs the question: Maybe people just want to be entertained? Or perhaps they are actually drawn to conflict? The new Facebook feature works in partnership with dedicated fact-checking websites from the U.S. Satirical news sites are also causing a headache for Facebook, with many passive readers unaware of the deliberately-fake content, instead ‘flagging’ the article and commenting disapproval.

Fake news is bad, but it’s part of a bigger problem

Deliberately misleading news – the kind of content that’s not fake – is seen by some to fall into a category of the lowest form of click-bait designed to fool readers, usually prompted by a vague or misleading headline, or even partially ‘missing’ headline – one of the tackier ways to gain attention. As a reader, It’s important to read past the shocking headline, check the author and double-check any sourcing before committing to forwarding or tagging someone in an article. Bottom line: Don’t fall for cheap click-bait tactics. You’re better than that!

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