Knowing how to spot fake news is critical in today’s online landscape, which is more consumer-driven than ever before.
The US election is one example where the implications of fake news fuelled a disastrous outcome. One academic study found that 1 in 4 Americans visited fake news sites in the months leading up to the election, with Trump Supporters showing as the majority.
That same study found Facebook to be the “most important mechanism” in facilitating the spreading of fake news. With that in mind, Facebook announced in March this year, improved efforts to combat fake news and the increasing dissemination of misleading narratives.
Facebook’s Product Manager, Tessa Lyons, disclosed snippets of a strategy that appeared reliant on manual reports from fact-checkers, and a back-foot approach to monitoring, intercepting and reducing visibility for content deemed as fake.
Since then, pressure has amounted, and it seems Facebook is serious about responding, with reports last week that announced their acquisition of UK-based tech Bloomsbury Al; this forms part of Facebook’s evolving strategy to combat fake news perpetuated by their multi-billion dollar platform.
But questions remain in terms of what the individual consumer can do to avoid participating in the spreading of fake content.
How To Spot Fake News
Recognise headlines for what they are
Headlines are either or both of two things, enticing and misleading – sometimes simultaneously.
Discourse derived from the act of merely skimming and misconstruing content is a highly underestimated driving force of fake news, particularly when it results in mass commentary, which perpetuates the cycle.
In other words, as consumers it is our responsibility to avoid inferring opinions without reading, checking, and contextualising content before sharing or engaging with it.
Credibility of sources
The 2018 Yellow Social Media Report found that 33% of Australians on social media have reacted to at least one post that turned out to be untrue. Content that draws from outdated reports (e.g. studies which are decades old) – or worse – an absence of sources and citations to back up an agenda, are strong indicators of a lack of credibility.
Explicitly polarised agendas
News sites that report solely from the lens of a polarised political or religious ideology are red flags for fake news. Even if a publication is deemed to lean a particular way politically, reporting should be considered and balanced. Again, when in doubt, check a news piece’s sources and citations to get an idea of how balanced and research-based references are.
Excessive pop-ups and advertisements
If an online platform is infused with intrusive pop-ups and excessive or dubious ad content, click out – these sites are designed to generate revenue and are not reliable sources of news.
Hyperbole and ‘unique’ stories
Beware of grotesque hyperbole, unique stories which aren’t covered by reputable news platforms, ambiguous domain names and URLs, conspiracy theories, and miracle cures – these are strong indicators of sites that perpetuate fake news.
Spot the bots
Bot accounts are fake social media profiles that are sold to make it look like an account has a greater following or level of engagement. They are incredibly misleading and problematic as more often than not they draw from stolen elements of people’s identities.
Look for unusual following ratios; for example, bot accounts usually follow thousands of accounts but will generally have a small following themselves. Bot accounts often engage in retweeting frenzies with little coherence – as this New York Times piece pointed out, these usually span “a dizzying assortment of topics in several languages”.
Beware of the viral meme
If information comes your way in the form of a meme, consider it as somewhere between opinion and fake news, with the exception of content pieces created by credible publishers whereby sources are available to back up what is being communicated.
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