Fake news. For those who use the Internet or watch CNN, it seems like it is all anyone can or wants to talk about at the moment. But why the sudden interest?
Fake news is hardly, well, new. Tabloids, such as The National Inquiry and Us Weekly, have been publishing dramatic, false stories under the name of “news” for decades. Whether it’s plausible but false, celebrity break-up rumors or fanciful accounts of Elvis and aliens, we have been conditioned to meet these headlines with skepticism when we encounter them in line at the grocery store. Now, however, with the ability to share news online via Facebook and Twitter, it seems we are throwing our b.s. meters out of the window and taking everything our friend of a friend of a friend posts as fact. What changed?
With digital media still being a relatively new frontier, it seems that it’s rapid growth has outpaced society’s average level of media literacy, or the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media. While some consumers can adequately critique a piece of news that they encounter on social media, the majority are left in the dark and, thus, tend to take something online that remotely looks like news as truth. Add in the fact that it also probably aligns with their political leanings, a.k.a. inflammatory towards the party/candidate they dislike, and you have a recipe for easy shares.
And creators of fake news know this. They create domain names similar to those of news sites we know to trust (i.e. ABCNews.com.co vs. ABCNew.go.com). They utilize outlandish headlines to draw readers to immediately sharing without investigating further. They create fake authors with fake accolades that would put Robert Frost to shame. And these are just a few of the multiple techniques they employ to trick readers, reputable news organizations like CNN and FoxNews, even international governments.
So how do we fix this? While sites like Google, Facebook and PolitiFact have taken measures to inform consumers as to whether a piece of news is likely to be found false, the best way to help combat the spread of fake news is improve consumer’s media literacy regarding social media and web articles. Like we were taught to treat the tabloids that line the grocery store check out lanes with trepidation, we need to be taught to view news we find on social media the same way and to investigate the claims we read before we swear by them. Until then, it’s probably best to take everything you read on Facebook with a grain of salt.