When fake becomes real

Have you ever heard of the two altar boys who were arrested for putting weed on the censer-burner? Or North Korea opening its doors to Christianity? What about Michael Jordan resigning from the Nike Board and will take Air Jordans with him? And the lottery winner who dumped $200,000 worth of manure on ex-boss’ lawn? Did you share any of these interesting stories on your social networks? If you did, you just shared some of the top fake news of 2018.

Ever since the rise of user-generated content and social media networks, anyone with access to the internet can practically create and disseminate information, real or otherwise, to everyone else. Publishing platforms like Wordpress made it easy for anyone to create dynamic and legitimate-looking websites while social networks like Facebook and Twitter allowed the distribution of information to a much greater scale.

Those who know how to “game” the social networks – i.e., use the algorithms’ logic to their benefit – can run off with trending news anytime.

Fake news has many types. There are commercially-driven sensational content aimed at increasing traffic to their websites for better advertising revenues. Some are highly-partisan news sites that support or propagate political viewpoints. Others are satire or parody sites that seem harmless until people start believing their stories. And of course, there’s the state-sponsored misinformation that aims to influence on a mass scale people’s points of view. For this last type, Facebook has come under fire in recent months for being used and abused in the 2016 elections and has been taking steps to limit fake news in its network, including removing fake profile pages and having third party fact checkers. Twitter has likewise moved toward improving how it deals with bots. And Google has promised better algorithms to police YouTube.

As consumers, we likewise have to do our part in making sure that we don’t help propagate misinformation. Here are some tips to spot fake news: