Despite what you read on Facebook or Twitter, Pope Francis did not endorse Donald Trump for president nor did Ireland start accepting Trump refugees from America.
These were stories, like many others, that circulated on social media platforms and gained over 800,000 engagements from readers and news organizations. Despite the fact that both were completely fabricated, many people actually believed what they read.
As fake news stories become more prevalent on social media and the Trump administration continues to blame media outlets for “misrepresenting” their actions, it’s important to understand how fake news spreads and what readers can do to break the “Fake News” cycle.
So why do we love to read fake news?
Josh Stearns discussed that there are several reasons why readers might share fake news on their social media platforms. First, people want to help in any way they can, even if it’s just passing along information. Stearns also mentioned that people are trying to make sense of the world, so when they read an articles quoting a “rumor” about an event, it helps them fill in the gaps of that story. Third, people want to feel part of a shared experienced, so they will seek out connections online to find solidarity. Lastly, people just feel an impulse to share information, even if that information isn’t correct, because it provides an emotional trigger.
All these reasons aren’t malicious in nature; they are all rooted in natural human behavior. But there is also the concern that it’s getting harder for people to identify fake news stories.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about a study that found that most students don’t know when news is fake. Even though adolescents and teenagers are a large audience on social media, the article says “they’re often clueless about evaluating the accuracy and trustworthiness of what they find.”
Many readers, including teens, aren’t reading skeptically anymore, according to WSJ. When they read a headline on Twitter, they take it as truth instead of reading the full article or researching more about the topic from other news outlets.
So it’s obvious we have a problem.
But how do we stop fake news?
Wynne Davis wrote that “stopping the proliferation of fake news isn’t just the responsibility of the platforms used to spread it. Those who consume news also need to find ways of determining if what they’re reading is true.”
To put it simply, it’s really up to the reader.
Readers are in control about a story going viral or dying. And if readers can read stories critically and prevent sharing false information.
Davis included several tips to encourage readers to be vigilant while reading. A few tips were:
- pay attention to the domain and url
- read the “about us” section
- look at quotes in the story
- look who said them
- check the comments
- reverse image search
Davis said, “If you do these steps, you’re helping yourself and you’re helping others by not increasing the circulation of these stories.”
If readers don’t want to investigate a website or they still aren’t sure if a website is legitimate, Slate offers a new tool that not only identifies fake news, it also reminds you that you can interrupt its viral transmission. The Washington Post also develop a web extension that fact checks Donald Trump’s tweets on Twitter.