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The Russians are Coming!

fake news

Between fake news, fake apps, and “alternative” facts, there seems to be no let-up in the barrage of misleading and outright false messaging. Fake news is not new, but its amplification through social media gives it a new dimension, causing it to become more pervasive. Unlike the PR spin, fake news is completely and intentionally made up. And because of the false narrative, a slight blend of truth to a story can make it difficult to discern the accuracy of its claims. Not surprisingly, this has created an opportunity to influence and exploit for political or personal gains.

Social media has rapidly become an integral part of all of our lives – it is the primary source for news and updates. The epidemic of fake news and alternative facts spread quickly like wildfire on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter – reaching tens of millions of people in milliseconds!  If you use any social media platform (duh!), you’ve probably been hit by some of these. Information doesn’t need to be true or funny to go viral – it can be a half-truth or even an outright lie.

Sometimes it may be something that fits a certain narrative that we have in our mind about a person or organization and we want so much for it to be true that we fall for it. On the other hand, a story is so outrageous that it’s easy to spot. No more was this more evident than during the 2016 US elections. Let’s see – “Hillary Clinton has brain Damage!”; “Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump!”; “Democrats to impose Sharia Law in Florida!”

Algorithms are part of what spreads fake news – because false stories which become popular can be pushed out by the software that runs social networks. But some programmers think computer code could also be part of the solution.

Google and Facebook have announced measures to combat fake viral stories online. Google has added a new feature, i.e. Fact Check (https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/07/fact-check-the-world-is-flat/) to Search and News to identify news reports as having been fact-checked by other news publishers and fact-checking organizations. Facebook is testing a new tool, located at the top of the News Feed to users in 14 countries (http://www.ubergizmo.com/2017/04/facebook-creates-new-tool-to-combat-fake-news/).  It is an educational project intended to help people spot and stop fake news from going viral.

Advertisers can help to solve this issue by paying closer attention to where their ads run and the environment in which their brand messages appear. For publications and news outlets – once the financial incentives for running click-bait, fake headlines disappear – the number of false news stories will decline.

What Can We Do?

  1. Beware the click bait: One way that fake news gets amplified or sensationalized is because busy readers may not look past the headline before they decide to share an article. Go through the whole article – you may find that it actually has nothing to do with the headline!
  2. Check out the news outlet: To trust or not to trust? Again, go beyond the pop-ups and loud ads. Google a site’s name and check out similar articles on various sites to determine if it’s trustworthy. Pay close attention to URL names of pages that look suspect to make sure that it’s not a spam site pretending to be a trusted source.
  3. Who’s the author: Looking at the writer of an article can reveal a lot of information about the news source. Searching through the author’s previous articles can show whether they are a legitimate journalist or have a history of “misleading and false” articles.
  4. Know your source: A lack of links or sources for claims in an article is an obvious red flag that the post may be false. Fake sites also provide numerous links to sites that appear to back up their claims, but are themselves spreading misinformation.
  5. Photos or photo-shopped: It’s common to take a photo from one event and say it is from another. Images can also be altered for a certain story. Reverse image searches on Google, Facebook, and TinEye can help you find where an image originated.
  6. Fact-check and verify: People are often drawn to stories that reinforce the way they see the world and how they feel about certain issues. It’s important to check that news stories are based on fact, rather than sharing them because they support one side of an argument to bolster belief or support.

Can We Ever Escape Fake News?

Unfortunately, there’s no one simple solution but we can start by not sharing stories just because they make us mad or tug at our heartstrings. News rightly gets an emotional rise out of us when a story is true, but when it’s false, that emotion can give power to baseless accusations and sow seeds of doubt. We can probably never escape it all together. But it’s up to each of us to use our intellect and common sense.

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia

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