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Social Media in the Era of #FakeNews

While there is so much attention surrounding fake news, people still get fooled every day by articles and news sites they believe to be real. Here’s a guide on how to identify fake news, what to do once you’ve identified it, and how to talk to your friends and family about sharing fake news.

Hate it or love it, social media is a part of our daily lives that we cannot get rid of or ignore. Even if you don’t personally use any forms of social media, these platforms still impact the decisions and views of the people around you. 

Social media use has grown tremendously over the past 14 years; the number of adults who use social media went from 5% in 2005 to 79% in 2019 (According to Our World in Data). Social media is a major influencer of people’s views, and we all know that. Sixty eight percent of Americans get their news from social media (According to the Pew Research Center). That’s exactly why so many advertisers, politicians, and organizations use these platforms to spread awareness and influence opinion. Social media can spread one article to thousands of people in a matter of hours, and all we have to do is click the share button. 

So, what’s the problem with this? It makes the spread of false information that much easier. While there are plenty of legitimate articles posted online, there are hundreds made each day for the sole purpose of deceiving the reader.

The term fake news was popularized in the last five years, and it refers to stories written and published with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or fabricated headlines to increase readership.

An analysis by Buzzfeed found that the top 20 fake news stories about the 2016 U.S. presidential election received more engagement on Facebook than the top 20 election stories from 19 major media outlets.

Satyrical Websites & Articles

Satyrical sites like The Onion create stories with sensational headlines in order to draw in readers. While many people who see the source being The Onion realize that it’s meant to be satire, not everyone reads the source when sharing articles online. Then comes the problem with people believing articles that were never meant to be true. People share these articles believing their content, and thus contribute to the spread of false information. Some examples of these articles include “College Freshman Annoyed About Having To Room With 47-Year-Old Adjunct Professor” and “Husband Returning Late At Night Accidentally Killed By Frightened Google Home.” They’re ridiculous and not believable, but that’s the whole point. They’re sensational enough that people share them. 

Intentionally Deceptive Websites

While some news sites intentionally put out articles that are not necessarily true for the purpose of entertainment and satire, there are some that disguise themselves as legitimate news sites in order to spread false information. Many fake news websites use names like NBCNews.com.co, Now 8 News, USA Daily Info, and Empire Herald that seem legitimate at the surface level, but are created with malicious intent. 

How to avoid being misled & spreading false information

How to recognize a fake story: 

If it’s something that’s big news, always do some background searching to check two things; 1. Check to see if the source site is legitimate, and 2. Try to find any other articles confirming this information. For example, During the 2016 presidential election, a fake news site put out an article titled “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorsed Donald Trump for President.” This is something that could’ve influenced the opinions of thousands of people. A quick Google search would tell you that the article is fake. 

What to do when you’ve found a fake story: 

There are many different ways to report a fake story. On Facebook, you can report an article by clicking on the three dots in the top right corner of the post and going to “Find Support or Report Post,” then click on “Fake News” or “Spam.” You can do the same thing on Instagram, but your options after clicking on the three dots in the top right corner of the post are “report spam” and “report inappropriate.” On Twitter, you can click on “It’s suspicious or spam.” 

Additionally, if you discover an article is fake after sharing it, you should delete the post. You should also contact the person you originally saw the post from and inform them that it is fake. If a group or a person is consistently sharing fake stories, report them. 

How to talk to your friends & family about sharing fake news:

This can be a very touchy subject, especially if these people wholeheartedly believe that a viral story has to be true. Just because something is shared thousands of times doesn’t mean it’s true; it means it’s effective. The best thing to do is approach the conversation with caution. The challenge is having the conversation in a way that doesn’t fray relationships. If this person is constantly sharing fake news stories, approach them privately and ask if they’re aware of their mistakes. It’s very important to do this in person or over the phone instead of in the comments section on social media, because they could feel attacked or ashamed. Make sure you keep the conversation positive and don’t place blame on the person. Be prepared to show them evidence that what they’re sharing is not true, that way they will hopefully see that you’re just trying to help them. 

Going forward: 

Always check the source of an article. If it’s not a news source that you immediately recognize as reliable, Google it and see if it’s legitimate. It’s so easy to share an article, but it’s so important to make sure that what you’re sharing is true. It’s our responsibility as social media users to make sure we are using these platforms responsibly and safely. 

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