Fake, fake, fake! It’s all fake news! But is it? Much of the world is gripped by a crisis of faith — faith in the news media to tell it like it is. Throw social media into the mix and trying to decide what is fake and what is real has become a nightmare.
The issue of fake news seems to be more of a problem in the U.S. than abroad and that’s partly due to the fact that Americans have become toxically polarized over politics. Sadly, we as a nation have descended into chaos over right vs. left and we obsess and rage over politics, as if that is all that matters. It’s not.
Who starts the fake news and who perpetuates it may never fully be known. We know it exists, but how does the average person decide which story is true and which is not — to complicate matters, some “fake news” is some parts true and some parts fake, so it’s a real mess, isn’t it?
Sources of Fake News
While we may not know all the sources of fake news, we do know some of them:
Foreign agitators are certainly spreading false and inflammatory news because their goal is to create a deep divide within the American public. They know the hot button issues that we wrestle with and they twist the truth and throw in a colossal dose of lies to stir trouble. Despite knowing that this is happening, too many of us still fall for it.
Political ideologues are also guilty of spreading fake news because their goal is just as sinister — they want to destroy the opposing party at all costs. Now of course, the mainstream media is probably not the real problem (though some political ideologues will tell you otherwise, which in-and-of-itself is a serious problem). But, all-in-all, we can feel comfortable knowing the well known news organizations are not spreading fake news, despite accusations to the contrary from both sides of the political spectrum.
Social Media may not be creating fake news, but they’re certainly enabling its rapid and vast dissemination. All someone need do is read a story that resonates with their confirmation bias and no matter how false it may turn out to be, they send it out across the web. Before you know it, millions of people have read it and worse, countless numbers of them will believe it outright.
Trust But Verify
Why are we so quick to believe all news and gossip, despite the fact that so many are outlandish in nature. The claims made and facts stated in these salacious stories are often so absurd, one has to wonder why some people are so eager to believe them? Why aren’t more of us verifying if these stories are even true?
These are some examples of real fake news stories that were actually published and circulated by some questionable sources. They were also sent out across the web by people who falsely believed them to be true:
“Did a Google Exec Admit to Rigging Search Results Against Donald Trump?”
“Is Sheriff Joe Arpaio Taking Over John McCain’s Seat in the Senate?”
“Is California Gov. Jerry Brown Moving a Veterans Cemetery to Make Way for Low-Income Housing?”
“Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop.”
“Democrats want to impose Islamic law in Florida.”
“Thousands of people at a Donald Trump rally in Manhattan chanted, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back.”
“Palestinians Recognize Texas as Part of Mexico”
“Illegal Immigrants Started California Wildfires”
“Trump Mocks Trudeau for Celebrating Thanksgiving Six Week Early”
“Merkel calls for German-Led EU army”
Sky News recently published an insight into fake news and I want to share part of that story here:
Fake news: Why people fall for it and how to stop believing it
A thought process developed early in life to protect against anxiety is key to falling for fake news, according to psychologists.
People fall for fake news stories because of thought processes developed as a child to protect against anxiety in an uncertain world, say psychologists.
Psychology can offer people evidence-based strategies to defend against fake news, according to experts at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
Keeping an open mind and developing critical thinking skills is the key to overcoming the phenomenon known as “confirmation bias”, which psychologists believe is at the root of the problem.
It is a bias in the way people understand the world in which they tend to seek and accept information which confirms their existing beliefs, while rejecting information that contradicts those beliefs.
This Makes Perfect Sense
So a big part of the problem is “confirmation bias.” People have a pre-conceived notion about things and this becomes ingrained in them and due to thought processes that develop in childhood, they carry that through their life. Very often out of fear and anxiety, they perceive things in a particular way and they seek out and cling to any story or factoid that they think confirms their existing beliefs, even if those existing beliefs are wrong and regardless of how fake that story or factoid is.
When Confirmation Bias Leads to Problems
The problem with “confirmation bias” is that now we all have the ability to consume news on-demand and, spread that news across the globe within seconds. More and more of us are only relying on sources that disseminate “news” that panders to our bias — in other words, people who have the same biases are telling us what we want to hear. Throw in the deep political divide (which they created) and add in foreign and domestic agitators and you have a recipe for disaster — we’re turning on each other and attacking our neighbors and its all down to what is often false news.
If you ever read the comments on various stories on different “news” sites, the problem becomes clear: without fail, some fake shill, who probably has 25 usernames and could be sitting behind their computer in Moscow, Beijing, London or even Denver, comes on and makes the most outlandish, provocative comments. Their goal? To create more divide. They’re often liars and they’ll pound out absurd comments on their keyboard, taking great delight when they’re published in the thread, because they know some sucker will fall for them hook, line and sinker. That unsuspecting person will respond to the shill’s comments and before you know it, others pile on and without fail, it devolves into an hysterical name calling match. Don’t Fall for it – these shills are there for a reason and that reason is to lie, twist and cause anxiety and divide.
So How Do We Not Fall for Fake News?
Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook provides this excellent guide on how to be mindful of what may be fake news:
There are excellent tips from the “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Fake News Edition” published on onthemedia.org:
- Big red flags for fake news: ALL CAPS, or obviously photoshopped pics.
- A glut of pop-ups and banner ads? Good sign the story is pure clickbait.
- Check the domain! Fake sites often add “.co” to trusted brands to steal their luster. (Think “abcnews.com.co”)
- If you land on an unknown site, check its “About” page. Then Google it with the word “fake” and see what comes up.
- If a story offers links, follow them. (Garbage leads to worse garbage.) No links, quotes, or references? Another telltale sign.
- Verify an unlikely story by finding a reputable outlet reporting the same thing.
- Check the date. Social media often resurrects outdated stories.
- Read past headlines. Often they bear no resemblance to what lies beneath.
- Photos may be misidentified and dated. Use a reverse image search engine like TinEye to see where an image really comes from.
- Gut check. If a story makes you angry, it’s probably designed that way.
- Finally, if you’re not sure it’s true, don’t share it! Don’t. Share. It.
I also want to add that we need to check our bias. Are we believing a story, no matter how outlandish it is, simply because it backs up a pre-conceived notion we have — even false ones?
This list is just one effective approach. In the “new media” world we live in, we need to be vigilant that what we’re being told is as true and accurate as possible. And, because of Twitter, Facebook and email, you are now a “reporter” of information, both good and bad — that ability comes with a great deal of responsibility.
Ultimately, it’s up to each one of us to scrutinize the information we absorb and share. There are a lot of malicious people out there and they take delight in creating and spreading fake news — this is also true for comments we read in a discussion thread, as these negative people seek to spread lies, create anxiety and ultimately, to divide the people. Don’t let them.
When our personal bias leads us to only believe things, no matter how ridiculous, that bolster our preconceived notion, we’re only harming ourselves. However, when we spread that fake news to others, we’re spreading negativity, anxiety and dishonesty.
Additional reading and resources you may want to check out: