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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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How to outsmart fake news in your Facebook feed


Therefore it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true. It seems so simple, but if everyone knew that, Facebook and Google wouldn’t have to weed out fake news sites from their advertising algorithms and people wouldn’t breathlessly share stories claiming that Donald Trump is a secret lizard or that Hillary Clinton is an android in a pantsuit.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Fake news is actually very easy to spot – if you know how. Consider this your new media literacy guide.

NOTE: In putting this article together, we solicited input from two communications experts: Dr. Melissa Zimdarsan associate professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts whose dynamics list of unreliable news sites has gone viral, and Alexios Mantzarlisthe head of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.

First, know the different types of misleading and fake news

1. Fake news

  • These are the easiest to debunk and often come from well-known sham sites designed to look like real news outlets. They can contain misleading pictures and headlines that at first glance sound like they could be real.
  • 2. Misleading news

  • These are the hardest to debunk because they often contain a kernel of truth: a fact, event, or quote taken out of context. Look for sensational headlines that are not supported by the information in the article.
  • 3. Very partisan news

  • A form of misleading news, this can be an interpretation of a real news event where the facts are manipulated to fit an agenda.
  • 4. Click bait

  • The shocking or teasing headlines of these stories entice you to click for more information – which may or may not live up to what was promised.
  • 5. Satire

  • This one is difficult, because satire doesn’t pretend to be real and serves a purpose of commentary or entertainment. But if people are not familiar with a satire site, they can share the news as if it were legit.
  • Second, improve your fact-checking skills

  • Alexios Mantzarlis trains fact-checkers for a living. He says it’s important to have a “healthy amount of skepticism” and think, really think before sharing a bit of news.
  • “If we were a little slower in sharing and retweeting content purely based on the headline, we would be taking a good step in the fight against scams,” he told CNN.
  • Melissa Zimdars points out that even those who spend a lot of time online aren’t immune to fake content.
  • “People think this [thinking] only applies to older people,” she told CNN. “I think that even primary education should teach about communication, media and the internet. Growing up with the internet does not necessarily mean that you are handy with the internet.”
  • To start, here are 10 questions you should be asking if something looks fake:

    says Zimdars sites with strange suffixes such as “.co” or “.su”, or those hosted by third-party platforms such as WordPress should raise a red flag. Some fake sites, like National Report, have legitimate-sounding if not overly generic names that can easily mislead people on social sites. For example, several fake reports from abcnews.com.co went viral before being debunked, including a June article claiming that President Obama signed an order banning the sale of assault weapons.

    Mantzarlis says one of the biggest reasons fake news spreads on Facebook is that people get sucked in by a headline and don’t bother clicking through.

    This week, several dubious organizations circulated a story about Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. “Pepsi STOCK plummets after CEO tells Trump supporters to ‘do their business elsewhere,’” read one headline.

    However, the articles themselves don’t contain that quote, nor evidence that Pepsi’s stock fell significantly (it didn’t). Nooyi made recorded comments about Trump’s election, but was never quoted telling his supporters to “take their business elsewhere”.

    Sometimes legitimate news stories can be twisted and brought back to life years after the fact to create a false coincidence of events. Mantzarlis recalls a false story that actually quoted a legitimate CNNMoney news story.

    A blog called Viral Liberty recently reported that Ford moved production of some of their trucks from Mexico to Ohio because of Donald Trump’s election victory. The story quickly caught fire online — after all, it seemed like a major win for the domestic auto industry.

    It turns out that Ford moved some production from Mexico to Ohio – in 2015. It had nothing to do with the election results.

    Photos and videos are also possible taken out of context in support of a false claim. In April, the liberal site Occupy Democrats posted a video of a young woman allegedly being removed from a bathroom by police for not looking feminine enough. This was during the height of the HB2 “bathroom bill” controversy, and the article clearly linked the two. “IT’S STARTING,” read the headline.

    However, there was no date on the video or evidence that it was shot in North Carolina, where the “bathroom bill” would be passed.

    In fact, according to Snopesthe same video was published on a Facebook page in 2015, meaning it predates the HB2 controversy.

    Not only political news can be fake. Now8News is one of the most notorious fake-but-looks-real sites, specializing in the kind of weird news stories that often go viral.

    One such article claims that Coca-Cola recalled Dasani water bottles after an “obvious parasite” was found in the water. There was even an accompanying cheeky photo allegedly showing the parasite, though some basic Googling reveals that it is most likely a photo of a young eel.

    Anyway, the article had no statement or claim by any company. Obviously, this was going to be a big story. Dasani or some consumer advocacy groups would publish statements or press releases about it, right? There are none to be found – because the story is 100% fake.

    trump false meme

    other 98%

    A favorite meme of liberal Facebook groups features a mock Donald Trump quote purportedly from a 1998 interview with People magazine:

    “If I ran, I’d run for Republican. They are the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe everything on Fox News. I could lie and they would still eat it. I bet my grades would be great.

    This one is easy to disprove if you think about it for a moment: People.com has extensive archives, and this one quote is nowhere to be found in them.

    During this election season, Pope Francis was swept up in three super-viral and completely false stories. According to various (fake) websites, the pope endorsed three US presidential candidates: first, Bernie Sanders, as “reported” by National Report and USAToday.com.co. Then Donald Trump, as “reported” by the fake news site WTOE 5 News. Finally, another fake news site KYPO6.com reported endorsing Hillary Clinton!

    In all of these cases, subsequent reports all reverted to the false reports. It’s always good to trace a story back to its original sourceand if you find yourself in a loop – or if they all lead back to the same questionable site – you have reason to doubt.

    01 clinton trump split MOBILE WEB

    JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Both Zimdars and Mantzarlis say confirmation bias is a big reason fake news spreads as it does. Part of that is built into Facebook’s algorithm – the more you like or interact with a particular interest, the more Facebook will show you related to that interest.

    Likewise, if you hate Donald Trump, you’re more likely to think negative stories about Donald Trump are true, even in the absence of evidence.

    “We look for information that already fits our established beliefs,” says Zimdars. “If we come across information that we disagree with, it can still reaffirm us because we will try to find fault.”

    So if you come across a scandalous article that feels “too good to be true,” be careful: it just might be.

    Did you know there’s actually one International Fact-Checking Network (which Mantzarlis leads)? And that it has a code of principles? The code contains, among other things, the ideals of impartiality and transparency. Sites like FactCheck.org, Snopes, and Politifact adhere to this code, so if you see a debunking there, you’ll know you get the real thing. View the entire list here.

    This is true things can get tricky. There is clearly a big difference between “misleading” news, which is mostly based on facts, and “fake” news, which is just fiction disguised as fact. Zimdars’ now famous list includes both types, as well as satire and sites that capitalize on clickbait-style headlines. Snopes also maintains a list.

    While Zimdars is pleased that her list has received so much attention, she also warns that it’s not right to completely write off some sites as “fake”. “I want to make sure this list doesn’t do the ultimate goal a disservice,” she says. “It is interesting that some headlines [about my list] are just as hyperbolic as the ones I am analyzing.”

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