The speed at which fake information proliferates on the Internet is staggering.
Upstart websites pushing a specific agenda — any agenda will do as long as it stokes fear and anger — have harvested massive followings, which leads to revenue. Or more scary, some control over the actions of their readers.
To deal with this troubling issue, the fact that people seem to believe everything that’s put in front of their face, the big players such as Google and Facebook have started banning fake news sites from their advertising. (It’s about time.)
Ever see that photo of Abraham Lincoln with the attributed quote: “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there’s a photo with a quote next to it.”
Lincoln couldn’t have been more right.
People are not making informed decisions. Sharing these clickbait news stories is creating a vast hole of real knowledge in the world and folks are falling hook, line and stinker.
I’m no saint. I’ve had my fair share of “oops” moments on Facebook sharing a catchy headline or video that was completely off-base. I have learned from those moments. I read, I research and then I make an informed decision.
Sure, websites like Snopes.com will confirm a story is fake, but how do you stop a freight train once it gets going? It’s impossible, something the authors of fake news stories are hoping for.
Granted there are times individuals inadvertently create fake news. The New York Times conducted a case study recently of just such an incident. A Twitter user, Eric Tucker, had 40 followers on Twitter when he saw buses at a convention. His initial thought was that these buses belonged to a group of Trump protesters.
So, he snapped a photo and stated as much in his Tweet. It took four hours to go to a Reddit group (Reddit is a social news web content and discussion site with the term “The front page of the Internet”). That Reddit group was a pro-Trump group who posted a “Breaking” story on the Tweet.
Nine hours later that story had become a truly viral hit, making it to conservative websites across the globe. The truth is the buses were part of a conference that had nothing to do with Trump, or the election.
The real issue isn’t whether it’s left or right leaning news; the problem is the dissemination of fake news information that writers know will stoke up their readers. These fake news sites can also include false health or science stories.
One solution comes from the bigger websites that have control over how the revenue flows, which is starting to trend. There’s one other solution.
The power to confirm or deny a fake news source comes directly from the reader. It is imperative that we educate ourselves and check our sources when reading anything. Sure, the evil conspiracy is a tempting hook and sharing it to one’s friends is quite satisfying if they too become indignant.
Yet, if one were to dig into the story and start looking at the actual sources some of them would go around in circles. That’s a good indicator for those unsure.
Another trick to remember is similar to the “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is,” adage. If the story is so incredible that it’s hard to believe, maybe go in there with a discerning eye and questioning mind. You might just learn something about what’s really happening there.