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How to Spot Fake News – Social Media’s role

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“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on” – Winston Churchill

 

By Jaunty Staff

 

With the daily barrage of information at our disposal, it’s increasingly difficult to sort out factual, relevant news from fake news. Unfortunately, social media platforms have become a primary conduit to spread disinformation. Many a bold statement from politicians, corporations or social media influencers (& apparently, certain factions within Russia) require a higher level of scrutiny.

 

Let’s take a look at the toll of fake social media & how to combat it…

 

Fake Social Media… Travels Fastest!

Prior to the days of social media, shocking gossip made the rounds well in advance of the simple truth; juicy details have always grabbed our attention!  It’s just part of human nature. Today, polished infographics, blog posts, & even doctored photos on Instagram are still plagued by the same issue.

Unfortunately, it’s generally the most salacious posts, that gain the most traction. False news stories are roughly 70% more likely to be re-shared on social media than accurate reporting and facts. Consequently, on social media, it takes accurate news reports roughly six times longer to reach people than fake social media news.

 

Why Does Fake News Spread so Quickly?

Clearly, some of the claims made on social media seem too ludicrous to be true, yet they still manage to proliferate.

In fairness to platforms like Facebook and Twitter they were never intended to be news outlets or purveyors of the facts. Their primary motivation is to keep your attention for as long as possible, in order to sell more adds. And, based upon what Facebook, Twitter and Google know about you, if they can match up articles that resonate with you (your natural bias, interests) and you share the information with others, their business model works. Further, if a trusted friend or colleague shares a fake news post, it’s only natural to give them the benefit of the doubt. What was originally a fun distraction to pass idol time, has taken on an air of informational importance for which it was not designed.

As psychology professor Colleen Seifert pointed out in a recent New York Times article, “What [Facebook] is actually doing is keeping your eyes on the site. It’s curating news and information that will keep you watching.”

“Facebook, Google, and Twitter function as a distribution mechanism, a platform for circulating false information and helping find receptive audiences,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College.

 

 

Social Media Fake News – Politics

Fake social media. Atoms for peace

Currently, the divisiveness of US politics is squarely front & center. Vitriol from both sides of the political spectrum is at an all time high; at least in my lifetime.  And, there’s still 9 months to go until the election! The engine of political disinformation is gaining steam.

 

2 Facebook Ad’s courtesy of Russian Trolls in 2016

Fake media from Russian Trolls

With Russian Troll farms pumping out thousands of pages of targeted social media during election cycles, a critical eye is important going into the 2020 election, to make an informed decision.

Fake news from Russian Facebook Ads

Photos courtesy of 2017 Business Insider Article

 

Doctoring Photos

On Jan 6th, 2020, an Arizona Congressman sent this tweet and doctored photo with the caption: “The World is a better place without these guys in power”

Original photo on left: Obama & then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011
Doctored photo on right: Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Obama has never met Rouhani

 

As we all witnessed in 2016, no matter your political persuasion, the need to question what is presented on social media has never been more important. If a politically motivated post does catch your eye, some due diligence on your part, might be necessary. More on how to fact check is provided below.

The Impact of Fake Social Media News… On US

fake social media, angry man painting

In addition to influencing politics, fake news on Social Media:

Foments hate groups and hate crimes, increasing discrimination, and a provides a platform for disreputable journalists.

Negatively Impacts your emotional state.  Statistically, excessive time on social media does not make you happier.

Disseminates incorrect health advice — Up to 90% of health tips and “facts”  shared from social media influencers are inaccurate, and potentially dangerous.

 

How to Spot Fake News… Before you share it

Fake social media, fact checking

Verify with a few more clicks

  • Approach ALL news reported on social media with skepticism. Social Media is a known purveyor of inaccurate information!
  • Consider the source – Are you familiar with the author or group? Could you confirm the source with a few more clicks?
  • Have other reputable news source also reported on the information? For example, if Hillary Clinton was abusing children in the basement of a pizza shop in Washington DC, as was widely circulated online in 2016, there’s a strong possibility that the NY Times, LA Times, Fox & Wall Street Journal would be following the story too. The story was shared thousands of times. A concerned citizen, Edgar Welch, actually stormed the Pizza Parlor with an AR15 and fired shots at the supply room locks, in a misguided effort to “free the children.” Fortunately, no one was hurt and poor Edgar was arrested.

Fact Checking Web sites

For the upcoming & ongoing political season, my two favorite fact checking web sites are Politifact.com and Factcheck.org

Both of these independent, non partisan web sites have a simple mission:

  • Track what our political leaders say on a wide range of topics
  • Research and determine wether they are telling the truth
  • Forego any political slant, regardless of party

The sites provide a quick & easy method of verifying that what’s being espoused by the politician of the moment, is rooted in fact!

 

Social Media is a great way to stay connected with friends, be entertained or catch up with your favorite athlete or celeb. So far, it hasn’t proved to be a reliable, factual news outlet.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc… are working diligently to address their policy regarding fake news and how to best handle it. At the end of the day, the responsibility lies with us; the readers and gate keepers of what goes into social media circulation.

 

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