The internet has long been a haven for the questionable article – “This amazing supplement will help you lose belly fat FAST” or “Do YOU know the truth about what really happened on 9/11?” – but until now it’s been pretty easy to spot for anyone internet-literate.
What’s changed of late is the quantity and how believable fake news is – no longer is it overtly pushing a fringe agenda or selling a product, we’re now seeing fake news articles that don’t appear to be ‘for’ any specific purpose.
What is fake news?
Contrary to what President Trump seems to believe, fake news is not just any news article which portrays him in a bad light. It’s news articles which are intentionally created to mislead or misinform those who read them – and that can be for any number of reasons.
Why does fake news exist?
There are several strands of the fake news agenda; the first is that it is the natural end-point of the increasing trend towards click-bait headlines. These are headlines which are deliberately intended to get the reader to click because they’re funny, weird or intriguing and give away just enough information to reel in the reader.
It was, perhaps, inevitable that driving traffic to websites using click-bait headlines on social media would eventually become news designed to ‘bait’ readers itself. In some cases this is simply capitalising on an already popular opinion – for example, “Teachers hate fidget spinners: Here’s why” – but in others, it may involve exaggerating or changing a story to make it more ‘clickable’.
It’s not dissimilar to tactics that have been used by tabloid magazines for years, inventing relationships between celebrities, hacking their devices and quoting ‘anonymous insiders’ who may or may not exist – but sometimes the targets of fake news are much bigger than celebrities.
As well as the desire to drive ad revenue on websites through click-bait articles, the other purported source of fake news articles is political rivals. The internet is a battleground on which political battles are being fought ever more ferociously – the younger generations don’t turn on the TV or pick up a paper to find out what is going on in the news, they tap on the Facebook or Twitter icon on their phone.
Because online outlets aren’t subject to the same rules and ethical guidelines as other forms of journalism, it can be easy to smear a politician or public figure online whilst making it look factual.
In fact, much fake news in recent months and years has been blamed on sources within Russia, which it has been posited may be working in the national interest to change the political landscape in such ways as might benefit the Russian state.
How can I tell what is fake news?
Just as with email spam and internet spam, fake news exists because it is in someone else’s best interests to change what you think about something. Luckily, there are plenty of reputable sources out there debunking fake news, a duo operating from India.
When faced with something you think might be fake news, it’s reasonable to take a look at the source – is it a respected outlet or a little-known website? Google some of the facts and try to find other sources – if you can’t, there’s a good chance that it isn’t true. Finally, look at the author – have they posted other stories you know are true, or similarly dubious pieces?
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