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:
Check the headlines. Usually, the headlines of fake news stories are catchy with a lot of exclamation points and capitalized words. This is very similar to sensational newspaper headlines of years past.
Check the source. You have to look closely at the URLs since some sites that spread fake news often mimic URLs of legitimate news sites. If the site is unknown to you, you can check the source by looking at the site’s about section to learn more about the site.
Check for errors and inconsistencies. You don’t have to be a grammar-nazi to do this but most fake news stories are made so fast and so often that they usually have glaring spelling and grammar errors. Some of the photos and videos can also be manipulated. Or sometimes, the timelines of the stories don’t make sense.
Check the evidence. Big item stories need to be based on facts so you can always check (i.e., google) the facts and the sources. You can also check if other news sites are carrying the stories. If no one else is, then be doubtful. If the other sites carrying the same story are also doubtful or unheard of sites, then be wary.
At its essence, technology has given us so much access at our fingertips. It is good and made information accessible to many at much lower costs. But we also have to be pragmatic in its use. The responsibility lies on us to know when to spread and when to delete or ignore. We can use it to spread fear or we can use it to do good. It is really up to us if we allow fake to become real in our lives. And if we do so, then we also have to accept the consequences.
Joy Santamarina is a consulting principal in the APAC region specializing in the telecommunications, media, and technology industry. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org