Fake news sites have always existed. If you’ve ever been to a grocery store checkout line, you’ve definitely read headlines about the Kardashians’ love life or how former President George W. Bush is really a lizard-person from another planet who’s come to steal the secret recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Those bogus news stories are nothing new, but as we’ve seen most evidently in recent US political discourse, sometimes deceptive online sources purposefully disguise themselves as otherwise trustworthy sites to sway public opinion through Sponsored placements on social media.
Concern about this very subject has led sites like Google and Facebook to announce that they’ll implement safeguards to crack down on these so-called fake news sites, which will ultimately restrict ad revenue for the companies, but may work to dissipate the amount of untrusted news making its rounds in our Newsfeeds. And, it wasn’t until recently that Facebook admitted its role in helping fake news sites propagate misinformation to its users until very recently by selling ads to Russian Facebook accounts dedicated to providing misleading political information to Conservative Republican voters.
So, why is there so much disingenuous information online? Well, for starters, if you’re seeing a bogus news story in your Newsfeed, it’s most likely because someone shared it. And, that means to gain traction, that lie has to believable. We live in a world where people aren’t inclined to click away from their primary user experience, so headlines and comment sections dominate for the same resourcefulness as the article in question. This means that individuals are reading headlines and thinking to themselves, “Oh wow! That confirms what I thought all along!” even though it may be an already debunked conspiracy theory. See the psychological phenomenon known as, “confirmation bias”.
In a recent Yale study, experts suggested that we’re even more likely to believe a fake headline if we’ve seen it or shared before, or if it is shared from someone you know. After all, our peers are our most trusted resource when it comes to online reviews, which is why Amazon reviews, Google reviews, and Yelp reviews are the first things you’re likely to check before buying a product, visiting an establishment, or eating at a restaurant. So, why wouldn’t we trust people we actually know and are connected to within our networks, and how do we as consumers ensure that we’re not sharing fake news from an unreliable source?
It starts with knowing what deception looks like. Here’s a list of news sites that pretend to look like trustworthy sites, but really want you to click and share so that they can make more ad revenue. Take note of things like cnn-trending.com or Bloomberg.ma., and NBCnews.com.co. Notice that there’s something off about those URLs? But, this is only the first step.
With the help of FactCheck.org’s November, 2016 article on how to spot fake news, you too can become an expert and help spread the word to your friends and family on how to avoid looking like a dolt by spreading false information on your social networks.