Fake News is Everywhere, Right?
Maybe not as much as we think – but more than we would like.
You have heard of stop – drop – and roll, right? It’s something that’s taught to all children in case their clothes catch on fire. In a way, fake news is like being on fire. But instead of your clothes burning, this type of news will burn you with false thoughts and misguided actions.
You can find false news in many places: on social media, on blog articles, on television broadcasts, or whole news websites (many of the ‘news’ articles are not completely true). False news can show up anywhere – not just the well-known sources. And it tends to go viral, like an uncontrolled wild fire.
WHY is there fake news?
Many people used to trust the news. Ok, maybe we should go way back in time to remember that – way, way back. Times have changed though. There are many reasons why people and companies exaggerate or falsify news these days.
7 Reasons Why People Report Fake News
- Entertains. Exciting headlines that make people feel very happy, angry, shocked and more, are going to draw more readers and viewers.
- Sells. Shocking headlines draw a reader or viewer in, bringing one more set of eyes to the product or service. The more eyes on the ad, the more sales.
- Controls thoughts. Sometimes headlines guide people’s thoughts. The headlines might encourage hate or love for a specific person or cause.
- Controls actions. It may affect how people vote, where people choose a vacation spot or even whether people accept a job offer. If you hear negative news about a certain company, you might decide to work for someone else, not knowing that the negative information is fake.
- Increases website traffic. Website owners often get paid every single time a person clicks on their website. The more clicks, the more money for them. Fake news is a sure way to lure people to their website for a quick buck.
- Causes mistrust. If there is one fake news report, then how do you know that all the news is not fake? It’s an effective way to cause people to stop watching news altogether or just watch one specific type of news.
- Satisfies. Maybe starting a conspiracy theory is a part-time hobby for someone. Some people just like to cause trouble for no other reason than watching the chaos they create.
Is All Fake News Really Fake? No…
Denial: Sometimes people don’t like what they hear and don’t want others to hear it. An easy way to stop this real news from spreading is to call it fake. If they point fingers and claim a particular piece of real news is fake, they might be able to hide the truth. Maybe they just have a different opinion or maybe they are scared that the truth will get out. Maybe it is as simple as a case of denial – they just don’t want it to be true.
Bad Reporting: Sometimes the news is just not well researched. The journalist may have intended on reporting the facts, but failed to follow through on the claims in the piece. Basically, bad journalism.
Confused Yet? Don’t Worry – This is Easier Than You Think
Your Stop-Drop-and-Roll Protection
Since many people are motivated to make a profit or guide public opinion with fake news, how do you protect yourself?
Ask some of these questions BEFORE you share or act on the news.
- Does the headline sound overly exciting or angry? Usually regular news is pretty boring, unfortunately. Lately, we have been hearing that some news stations make the news a little more ‘interesting’ to get people’s attention. Feeling strong emotions is much more engaging than watching boring news, filled with facts and no emotion.
- Does the headline sound too good to be true? Did the president really pass a law forgiving every type of debt? Mortgage debt, student loans, credit card debt and more. Wow! I want to believe this too! Who wouldn’t? As amazing as this would be, unfortunately it’s just not true.
- Does the headline match the topic when you click on it? Recently, I saw a picture of a famous actress with the headline that she died. It was in a small article (I discovered was an ad) on the right side of my Facebook feed. I couldn’t believe it! I just had to click to see when and how she died. Gossipy, I know. Well, much to my surprise, she was never even mentioned in the article, not even once. Instead, it was an ad for a new face cream. While I was happy she had not really died, I was annoyed that the ad blatantly lied to me.
- Does it sound ‘mostly’ true? The keyword is ‘mostly’ here. The best fake news has a sprinkle of truth in it. If it sounds completely fake, then it won’t work! It’s very important that authors of fake news include some truth, but the problem with these headlines is ‘how can you tell what’s real from what’s fake?’ If the news sounds like a mix of make-believe and truth, just disregard the whole news report and see if you can find another report on the same topic, hopefully with just the truth this time.
- Do you have to click many times to read all the information? This might be a warning sign. Have you ever noticed that every time you click to go to the next page, a whole new set of ads also load? All those ads earn money for the website owner, so they don’t really care whether the news they offer is real or fake; they just need your clicks to keep the money rolling in.
- Does the news source say they are the only place to get the real news? This is a huge warning sign. A typical piece of news, for example – a natural disaster, will be covered on all major networks and papers. If one news source is reporting the facts differently from all other news sources, question whether it’s accurate or not.
- Have you ever heard of the news source before? Sometimes people will make websites to just throw out some scathing fake news only to take the website down once the fake news has done its job, such as manipulating the results of an election or sabotaging the success of a movie. If it’s an unknown news source, read or listen to the news with a hairy eyeball.
- Does the website look very familiar but not exactly like a well-known website? Sometimes fake news sites copy a reputable site to gain your trust.
- Does the website address look odd? Look at the website address – the URL. It’s usually located at the top of your browser. The most common website names end in .com, .org, .edu, .gov, etc. One clever way scammers have spoofed real websites is to include the company name in the fake website address with a slight change. For example, a legitimate website might be named www.asurea.com, but a fake news site would be named something like www.asurea.co.com.
- Is there a disclaimer of some sort? Look carefully around the website; often, in the fine print, you will see something like: “These articles are for entertainment purposes only.” The owners of the website are admitting it’s just for fun, but the disclaimer is so small, it’s almost impossible to see.
- Is it on a comedy show or channel? Maybe you heard something shocking on TV, and it has you so mad. But have you considered what show or channel it is on? There are many comedy shows on TV that specialize in news comedy, but not everyone knows this. Just know, if there is a large studio audience laughing with the talk show host, and there are many jokes sprinkled in here and there, some of the shocking statements might be for pure entertainment. While this might be a fun way to get your news, its main purpose is to entertain.
- Does the headline use sensationalistic language? “You won’t believe your eyes!” “You will never believe what she said!” “5 Things You Have to Know Now.” “Secrets You Are Not Supposed to Know.” And many more. These might lead you to falsehoods.
- Was it published on The Onion or ClickHole? Keep in mind, these websites are not news at all – they are entertainment! They are written purely for fun. Read them and enjoy them – but don’t accept them as fact. There are other satire websites as well, but these are two of the most popular ones.
- Is there an author? Most legitimate news gives credit to the author. Often, the author will be published elsewhere online or have a LinkedIn profile.
- Are there spelling or grammar mistakes? If you see this, run. No reputable news source will have spelling or grammar errors. One error may slip through now and then, but you’ll know the difference between a small mistake and just bad writing.
- Does the article say, “This is NOT a hoax!” in the title or anywhere in the text? This is a sure sign you are being misled.
- Does it confirm your confirmation bias? Ok, this is a tough one. Sometimes we don’t even know what our confirmation bias is. For example, if you like a particular politician and see upsetting news about him or her, you might just say, “Oh, that’s just fake news.” Then, later, you hear similar news about the politician you don’t like. Your instinct may be to immediately believe it. In reality, maybe both reports were fake news. This is a tricky issue to watch for, but the more you become aware of your confirmation bias, the better.
- Does it contain an excessive use of punctuation marks, emojis or capitalization? Generally, the news doesn’t have three exclamation points after every sentence, a smiley face, and words in all caps. And don’t forget GIFs. Many articles that contain GIFs are fake news, but that’s not always true these days as GIFs are becoming more popular.
- What happens when you do a reverse image search? Google offers a service that will show other locations of a picture on the internet. Did you see a picture of a politician wearing a t-shirt that says something offensive? Do a reverse image search. Look at the pictures that are displayed. Is the same message there? This works great with crowds holding up picket signs. Sometimes a viral image will go around because the message on a picket sign is so offensive, it just has to be shared. Do a reverse image search to see what the sign originally said before being altered. Most likely, the original text on the sign was not nearly as interesting as the fake one.
Protection for You
Much like breaking a chain letter, some companies are now stepping in to stop the spread of fake news.
Facebook recently added a “Tips to Spot False News” page to their website. On the same page, they have a section on how to report a post if you believe it is fake news. Google is also taking steps to combat fake news. They have added a new ‘fact check’ feature to their search results.
For the Extra Motivated – Fact-Checking Resources
If you are motivated (Awesome! But let’s be realistic – not many of us are this dedicated to fact checking), and you want to fact-check a particularly fishy piece of news, here are some resources to help in your quest for the truth:
- Look up the topic in multiple news sources. Watch a variety of TV news shows, read a few major papers, peruse some top news sites, even read and watch overseas news (they often report on American events). It would be quite unlikely if every single one were fake. If most of the news sources are saying the same thing, the news is probably accurate.
- Snopes: A fact-checker – specializing in online viral content and rumors.
- Washington Post Fact Checker: They “‘truth squad’ the statements of political figures regarding issues of great importance…[and] explain difficult issues, provide missing context and provide analysis and explanation of various “code words” used by politicians, diplomats and others to obscure or shade the truth.”
- Politifact.org: They are “a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics.”
- FactCheck.org: They are “a ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”
The Dangers of Fake News
Just like the fire that compels you to stop-drop-and-roll, fake news burns.
It burns your thoughts (do you now believe something that is not true?); it burns your actions (have you done something based on the fake news – like quit your job in anger?); it burns others (fake news spreads like wildfire).
Usually falling for a fake news report doesn’t do much harm. You might end up in an argument with a relative over a heated topic, or you might decide to stop watching a specific news station.
But sometimes it’s more serious. For example, a person may attack another person based on the false information. Someone might even get killed. A little bit of fake news goes a long way.
Think Before You Share – Think Before You Act
Take suspicious news with a grain of salt and consider it more as entertainment than anything else until you fact-check. Many of the false news creators hire very talented writers who have inventive imaginations and can tell tall tales wrapped in a little truth. You might get a laugh here or there, but please don’t share and spread the ideas as truth. While you might have an eagle eye and spot a fake as far as a mile away, not everyone can.
Did a friend of yours send you fake news? Let them know. Friends don’t let friends share fake news.
Don’t Get Burned!
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This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.