What’s the deal with… Fake News

Fake news is a phrase that can be found in the headlines at the moment as the realisation of how it is effecting major political events across the world is starting to surface.

Fake news is essentially published information with the intend to mislead or negatively influence readers in order to damage an individual or group. Quite often this type of news is sensationalised or exaggerated in order to gather as much attention as possible in order to increase its readership and get it shared across social media. Whilst this can mainly be a way of gaining additional advertising revenue, in recent years there has been a worrying trend in its use to politically target major events globally.

Various governments, most notably Russia, have been implicated recently in using fake news during some pretty major events in recent years including the British Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. Various studies have shown that fake news during last years presidential election generation 10’s of millions of shares, retweets, impressions etc. Worryingly about this, a large majority were all pro Trump or anti Clinton. Perhaps more worryingly, there have been investigations into centres across the world that hire 100’s of people to generate fake accounts on social media platforms to comment and share news pushing towards some of the negative agendas, including pro Trump media during the election.

Equally,smaller political parties and interest groups have also been utilising fake news to spread their agendas. Most recently in the UK, fake news was spread that the UK government had voted to deny that animals felt pain or emotion. This was then shared by a string of celebrities (with large amounts of followers) and re shared millions of times. It has since been debunked but the reputational damage was already done.

Facebook and Google have played a major role in the propagation of fake news and have both announced that they will be working to crack down on fake news on their sites. Quite often anonymously hosted fake news website or fake social media accounts are used to publish the news as the fake news can be easily shared and the anonymity makes it almost impossible to track down where it started. Prior to the internet and social media, it was costly to distribute fake news and propaganda but the rise of social media has made it easy for anyone to share news without any regulation.

The problem is, aside from the political targeting of major global events, fake news brings news agencies and media outlets revenue. By using fake news, these agencies and outlets are able to attract more viewers which in turn generates more revenue from advertisers so as long as it’s making money for people, that’s not going to change.

Equally, using fake news for political purposes isn’t a new concept. Propaganda has been used for centuries to undermine opponents and rewrite history. The problem now is that with a global platform, the level of impact can be even more devastating and can go unnoticed.

A key issue with fake news is that people are more likely to believe something instantly if its shared by a friend or acquaintance and that the more outrageous, the more likely that news will spread. Even if that news is debunked as fake, the damage is already done and the exposure of the truth is nowhere near that of the fake news.

The best way we can tackle fake news is to educate ourselves to help better spot fake news articles when we see them.

The Internal Federation of Library Associations and Institutions provide d a summary with some excellent tips to help you spot fake news.

  1. Consider the source (to understand its mission and purpose)
  2. Read beyond the headline (to understand the whole story)
  3. Check the authors (to see if they are real and credible)
  4. Assess the supporting sources (to ensure they support the claims)
  5. Check the date of publication (to see if the story is relevant and up to date)
  6. Ask if it is a joke (to determine if it is meant to be satire)
  7. Review your own biases (to see if they are affecting your judgement)
  8. Ask experts (to get confirmation from independent people with knowledge).

Our education on spotting fake news is vital to ensuring we prevent ourselves from being manipulated to someone else’s agenda.

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