“Fake news” is defined as stories that are intentionally fabricated to fool readers and are often created to profit from clickbait, stated Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times, cited the Toronto Public Library, one of the world’s busiest urban public library systems. The latter term is a way to draw attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web site.
Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter allow users to share information. However, most of these services present “news” items, ads, or “sponsored content,” making it difficult for users to discern real news from hoax sites. Social media ad space is sold through brokers, meaning the service itself is oblivious to what is being advertised on their platform. This makes social media the perfect place for the proliferation of fake news.
2019 Poll Highlights America’s Thumbs-Down On Social Media
Results from the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 57% of Americans agreed with the statement that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter do more to divide the country, cited Mark Murray of NBC News, an American news division. 35% believed that social media brings the nation together. 55% believed that social media does more to spread lies and falsehoods compared with 31% of respondents who said it does more to spread news and information.
61% thought social media does more to spread unfair attacks and rumors against public figures and corporations while 32% said it does more to hold public figures and corporations accountable. 82% of Americans said social media sites waste people’s time compared with those (15%) who said they more to use their time well. Interestingly, nearly seven in 10 Americans or 69% said they use social media at least once a day.
The poll found that 60% of Americans do not trust Facebook at all to safeguard their personal information. In fact, only 6% said they trust the company either “a lot” or “quite a bit.” On the other hand, the percentage of respondents not trusting companies or institutions with their personal information was lower for Amazon (28%), Google (37%), and the federal government (35%).
Most Americans Get Their News From Social Media
The Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American think tank, found that 68% used social networks for news, with 20% of Americans saying they get information “often” from those services including Facebook and Twitter, cited Phys Org, a news platform on science. 32% said they never get news from social media while 21% hardly ever get their news from those platforms, wrote Elisa Shearer and Katerina Eva Matsa of Pew Research Center.
The sites with the most news-focused users were Reddit (73% in 2018 versus 68% in 2017), Twitter (71% in 2018 versus 74% in 2018), Facebook (67% in 2018 versus 68% in 2017), YouTube (38% in 2018 versus 32% in 2017), and Instagram (32% in 2018 versus 27% in 2017).
Apparently, 57% of the respondents said they expect the news they see on social media to be “largely inaccurate” and only 42% said they were “largely accurate.” However, 36% said it helped their understanding of current events and 15% said it made them more “confused.” When asked what they like about the news experience on social media, “convenience” was mentioned by 21% of Americans while 8% said they enjoy interacting with other people. Only 3% and 2% said they like the diversity of available sources and the ability to tailor the content they see, respectively.
What Americans dislike most about getting news on social media were inaccuracy (31%), “biased/too political” (11%), low quality news (10%), “the way people behave” (8%), “the platform is hard to use" (3%), and others (5%).
How to Spot Fake News
1. Research the Author
Check the author’s name of the news story you’re reading. If you see their name, find out their occupation and read other articles written by them. Check their credentials too— are they an expert? Do they work at a reputable organization? Are their articles well-researched?
You can also click on the “About us” section either on the top or bottom of the website. In general, this section should underscore the website’s purpose. Be sure that the website has an authoritative team of journalists or writers. You can also read about the website’s host to determine its credibility.
2. Read the News Story Carefully
Does it inform you of all sides of the topic? News should tackle facts from all viewpoints. If a story only presents one perspective, it may be biased. Check the sources cited in the article. Are they credible? Do they support the claims being made by the author?
Be mindful of any spelling errors, dramatic punctuation, or words written in all caps, advised the Harvard Summer School, the university’s summer school that provides summer courses and programs. If so, stop reading.
Quality sources have high proofreading and grammatical standards. You can also check if other news organizations are reporting on the same topic. The same applies to images. Get ready to perform reverse searches for dubious images. With the power of Photoshop at our disposal, you can’t always believe the images are authentic.
3. Think About the Story’s Content
Is the content informative? Exercise critical thinking when digesting the information you receive. There are also articles that are written to convince you to buy a product. There are articles out there that look like news stories but are actually an advertisement. They even exist side by side sometimes so watch out for articles that have “sponsored content” or “native advertising.”
Be aware of satire too; satire and fake news are not synonymous. Satire employs exaggeration or irony to shed light on hypocrisy, particularly in current events. Satirical news is usually funny.
4. Consider Where You Found the Story
Ensure that you also know where you got the news story. Be wary of websites that look official or real. Some individuals fool their users by using domain names to make their website appear official. Websites and blogs may use sensational headlines to draw you in and may publish articles that appeal to specific audiences.
5. Visit Fact-Checking Websites
You can verify the information you read by visiting a fact-checking website. By doing your own detecting work, you will be more confident in distinguishing fact from fiction.
In the post-truth era, differentiating between fact and fiction is more of a struggle due to greater internet penetration. Each of us can be a bearer of fake news. Yes, we might share that sensational news by mistake but we should be more mindful of the news we are sharing with our loved ones.