Fake News has been around for a while, but with the 2016 Presidential Election and Donald Trump tooting his Fake News horn, it’s been in the social spotlight. So, let’s take a look at it… shine even more light on it and try to understand a little bit better what Fake News is and why it exists on the internet, especially on social media channels, in the first place.
‘Fake News’ – What Is It?
Fake News – stories put out on websites that are false and created solely to either push a certain ideology/agenda, or… to create content that will go viral. A lot of this content is then pushed onto several websites, sometimes hundreds of websites owned by the same entity. It’s like seeding a field of weeds.
In the case of pushing a certain ideology/agenda (aka. Astro-Turfing), by creating a multitude of websites to push a certain policy or product, the public is misled to believe that a certain opinion is strong and popular, when actually it is not. When it becomes really misleading is when people (such as students) go on the internet to do research on a topic. They find these multiple (seemingly different) sources stating the same facts, and then it is assumed that those facts are true. It’s tough these days to sort fact from fiction, but the good news is that schools are beginning to educate students to be on the look-out for fake news and astro-turfing.
Let’s Go Viral
Then there’s Fake News that is created in the hopes of having it go viral. The creators of this type of content really don’t care about pushing a certain product or agenda. Their main thrust is to create a story that people will share on Facebook. It’s content that is geared to stir up emotion… it’s content that is glittering and enticing… hoping for people to click on the link to get them to their website, or at least ‘like’ it or comment on it, or even share it.
So, why would anyone want to waste their time creating fake news? Why muddy up the pond? The answer is simple…. money. Fake news sprouts from websites created solely to profit from people that click on their links that take them to their website. Through the use of Google AdSense, an ad program, these people have found they can make money as people visit their sites. By creating eye-popping, shocking, or content that is in line with a certain groups belief system, they then use Facebook and other social media channels as the driving force to reach the audience that will see the content, click on it and share it.
At the time of the 2016 Presidential election, there was a huge spike in Fake News. The election was the trending topic across America and the World, a fertile topic for generating fake news. Along with hundreds of websites, fake news people also have hundreds of Facebook accounts that they use to push their links. The fake news posts on Facebook are created to incite and provoke, or to share the views that the audience likes. When a Facebook user “likes” a story because it strikes a harmonious chord and is in line with their own views or opinions, then Facebook sees that “like” and then serves up more of the same to that user. That’s how fake news ends up being at the top of the pile instead of buried under other news stories.
People share stories on social media without first checking to see if the story is based on truth or if it’s really a lie. With the spotlight shining so strongly on Fake News stories these days, perhaps people will think twice before sharing these types of posts. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain between truth and fiction. NPR has come out with some wonderful tips on how to sniff out if a news story is real or not: Fact Or Fiction Tips.
Facebook recently has announced it will proactively try to stop the spread of Fake News. It will allow users to report a post as a fake news story. Once a post has been flagged, it goes to Facebook’s third-party fact checkers who then check on the credibility of the story, If bogus, the link to that story will be flagged so that if a user tries to share it, they will receive a pop-up notice that informs them that the story may be fake. If the user decides to share it anyways, the post will end up in the lower depths of the News Feed so that nearly no one will see it. Facebook will also not offer advertising opportunities for posts that have been flagged as fake. So, that’s a step in the right direction.
We have to admit, we live in some very interesting times…. really extreme times. It’s as if we’ve entered a hall of mirrors where it’s extremely confusing to figure out what is up or down, what is truth or fiction. It’s important to be aware and tread fearlessly, yet cautiously.