“Fake News” will certainly be a hot contender for “Word of The Year 2017”. But don’t worry, despite the fact that the term “Fake News” is a favourite expression of the 45th president of the United States this is not a post about politics.

Ever since working on the student newsletter in high school I’ve been keenly aware of the responsibility of those that create publications for others. I feel that we have a responsibility to create and distribute content that is either based on fact or clearly marked as fiction.

Forrest Strout of Webopedia.com defines fake news this way:

Sadly I have had to remove a few Facebook friends recently because they lacked the skills to check the sources of their information. In our discussions, these friends cited sources that were obviously biased and unreliable. I realized then that I wanted to help to educate my readers about how to spot and stop the spread of fake news.

These skills also help to spot the scams, hoaxes, and misinformation that we come across in Social Media on a daily basis.

With this article I want to:

Why we should be careful about sharing the fake news.

Fake news is nothing new. The power to put a different twist to a story while reporting it to someone else is older than the written word. Later on, the word “propaganda” was invented to describe the creation of news pieces to influence opinion and elicit the desired response.

What is new is that anybody can now set up a new site and publish stories without even the pretense of them being based on facts. In some cases, even the facts themselves are made up and research is quoted that doesn’t even exist. By copying this misinformation and quoting fake sources in follow-up articles the trail of the fake news gets more and more difficult to trace.

Social Media is changing the way we discover, filter, interpret and share information. Considering how recently we acquired the digital tools to report and share information, it is no surprise that some of the growing pains have a dramatic effect. The digital media revolution has a bigger impact on our lives than the industrial revolution or the invention of print ever had.

More than ever before “trust” and “reputation” are essential for all that want to be taken seriously in this connected world. Once you lose credibility it can be next to impossible to gain it back. Whether you realize it or not, every like on a post, every share of a Facebook post influences those that you are connected with. We spend more time on social media than ever and other news media become harder and harder to filter and follow. As we spend more time on Social Media and less on the places that used to bring us the “news”, our Facebook feed, curated by our friends and an algorithm influenced by trending topics, needs to be reliable.

In creating content and sharing that of others, it is important to make sure it’s true. Otherwise, you lose trust and the reputation of what you say will be tarnished.

How to spot unreliable sources on the internet:

In the bizarre 2016 US election, we saw a rise of websites that were created for the sole purpose of spreading false information. Similar to phishing emails that want to spy out your credit card information, there are some tell-tale signs to check:

Here is a helpful video I found on the Channel 4 Fact Check Facebook Page:

  1. Check the website address (URL). Does it seem legit?
  2. Does the website have a disclaimer admitting that the stories are made up?
  3. Are the articles anonymous or can you verify the author?
  4. Google statements that seem suspicious
  5. Do a reverse search on the images

Here are two more tips from me:

There are perfectly legitimate websites that report news items that are biased or blown out of proportion, similar to tabloid newspapers or magazine covers at the grocery store check out. In these cases, sales figures or the political agenda of the owners are more important than the truth.

daily mail fake news

You can simply do a google search for these: In this case, I entered the query: “How reliable is the daily mail?” because this source was often cited in the discussions I mentioned earlier.

Naturally, you don’t want to discredit a site just because someone wrote a bad review. But if many others are reporting trouble with the site it is quite obviously not a source you should trust.

Stay away from sharing links from these sites even as a joke. You never know how your followers interpret your post.

Check the sources!

One of the sharpest tools against believing fake news is your common sense. Before you believe a news report it is a good idea to ask a few questions. This is similar to the process the journalist Adrian describes later in this article.

Trust but verify – trust your source but see where they got their information from. Sometimes it takes a little time to discover the path of deception. I have checked articles where the writer claimed to have the information from a study. The link to the study led to another blogger that linked to the same study quoted on another blog. At the end, the quote was from a study that came to a totally different conclusion than the article I researched drew.

Sorting out what information is correct is getting harder. I believe that the time we are in requires us to develop and hone fact checking skills.

What does Facebook do to prevent fake news?

In a post after the US election Mark Zuckerberg said:

That said, we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.

Gizmodo reports on March 15, 2017 that Facebook is starting to put “Disputed” tags on posts that were reported as being fake.

The system is far from being perfect yet. Rather than building its own system of fact-checking stories, Facebook relies on sites like Snopes and Politifacts for verification of the dispute.

Helpful sites to check for hoaxes, scams and fake news:

You know that story on Facebook that sounded too good to be true because it was fake? We can all remember Facebook scams that we or our friends have fallen for.

Here are two sites that you can use to debunk or verify most popular stories:

snopes

Snopes.com even has a special section for Fake News. The site has researchers that fact-check all kinds of reports from all over the internet.

Hoaxslayer.com has saved me many times from posting sensational fake stories on Facebook.

Especially for checking stories with a more (US) political background, PolitiFact is a really good site. Their Truth-O-Meter is a quick way to verify if a story is based on real facts or “alternative facts”.

It takes only seconds to run a claim you find on the internet through their search to find out if it’s true or not.

How do the pros check facts?

The pressure on journalists to produce the most popular (not the most important) content fast is incredible. In 2011 I wrote about a podium discussion about the impact of Social Media on journalism and now in 2017, my observations have been surpassed. While before the professional media would use information found on Twitter, today it seems like the preferred strategy is to publish news content according to “Trending Topics” on Facebook and Twitter.

In my latest Podcast episode, I asked Adrian Nieoczym about these pressures on journalists like him.

Adrian talks about how he makes sure his stories are based on facts rather than opinions. He has some great tips for this and I encourage you to listen to the short, 20-minute show.

Every time Adrian hears about a story he goes through a simple checklist before he publishes:

  1. Evaluate the source – “Why would this person know? How did they get their information”
  2. Do what you can to verify what the source is telling you
  3. For balance, get another perspective

The pressure on Journalists to produce content fast is much bigger today. Like Adrian says: “People are consuming more media than ever before while newsrooms are at their lowest historic staffing levels.”

We are all becoming content creators and the concern is that by getting our news from a few selected sources we are in danger of being in an echo-chamber where we miss hearing the opinion of others.

Conclusion

The impact of digital media and mobile computing on our lives is bigger than the invention of print or the industrial revolution. To deal with this change we have to develop skills that people before us did not need. A higher level of fact checking and verifying our sources is an essential skill to have if we don’t want to fall prey to those forces that want to pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.

Never before have we had access to so many sources of information and it has never been easier to access this information. But the decline of professional, independent journalism paired with the beginning impact of artificial intelligence (AI) are working against us in the attempt to be well informed.

We will struggle with this new quality of “Fake News” for a while. Unfortunately, some people may be hurt or even die based on the conclusions drawn from these reports. Bad decisions are inevitable.

But if we all stop believing and spreading fake news, we can have a positive impact on the lives of our friends and the world at large.

How do you make sure the information you share is accurate? Please let us know in the comments below!

Please let me know in the comments below!

Published by Frithjof

Digital media strategist, coach, community manager and CEO of BlueBird Business Consulting. Blogger, podcaster, content creator and teacher with a passion. Favourite quote: “To succeed in the business of the future we have to become the very people we are trying to reach” ~ Brian Solis

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