Scroll, scroll, like…, scroll, scroll, share…, scroll… – you get the drill! Social Media has become quite an important factor in our life (like it or not). It provides instant access to news, reviews, product launches, gossip and the list goes on and on, but it has also opened the door to a wide range of topics and debates that question the effects the content that we are exposed to has on us.
If we had to tackle all these in one blog, we’ll simply be writing until end of time (dramatic much?), but one important factor that we feel needs a massive spotlight on is understanding what fake news is and how to identify it.
The Rise of Fake News
The first question that would come to mind would be, “But why create fake news?” and there are two major answers to that: scam & a change of perception.
From installing malicious malware, spyware and viruses on your computer to requesting personal information when clicking on a link, scams can take all forms, and on social media this is no exception. You might have come across the following ad on Social Media;
Whilst at first glance this seems harmless, when you look at particular features you will start realising that something fishy is brewing. Here are a few tips to help you identify what’s fake about these;
Have you ever heard of these publishers and pages? If a NO is your immediate answer, then that is hint 1. A quick Google search can easily give you enough information to note who the pages are, BUT, do not click the link on the post to find out more. The visible URL link is also indicative of where the post will be linking to, which is another hint if a post is fake/scam or not. If you don’t recognise any of the URLs and page profile, be cautious of your next step.
Facebook’s help guide has a huge source of tools to help you gather further information about the ads a page is running. The Facebook Ad Library gives you a list of all the promotions a page is running, when the page was created and sometimes from which country the page originated from. So, when you see these similar ads, go onto Facebook’s Ad Library and insert the name of the page;
Since the example we’re using is showcasing a news item, the recent date of the page creation and the international primary location are additional hints that the page might not be as reliable, and therefore, there is a scam brewing!
Do further searches
If you are still not convinced that these are scams, a quick Google search on the news being reported helps further. If no other local news source is reporting any of this news, then it’s proof enough that these are in fact not real. Many of the examples shown have actually been shown on local news portals as warnings that these are fake.
What can you do next?
Along with avoiding to react, comment and share, avoid clicking on; the profile, learn more or the post, but instead click on the three upper-right dots on the post, and a menu will drop down where you will find several options and directions available, including; Why you are seeing the post?, Hide Ad, Report Ad, and so much more. Reporting the ad is the first step that you should take, it safeguards other users but also warns the platform of the ongoing scams.
Change of Perception
Let’s start with a simple exercise. Look at 5 local news platforms and pick one news item that seems to be trending on the day and take note of the headlines. Have you noticed that what one news portal writes in the title is different to that of the other, and have you also noticed that your thought, perception and opinion changed depending on what was written on these? “Psychologists have long known that first impressions really do matter—what we see, hear, feel, or experience in our first encounter with something, colours how we process the rest of it. Articles are no exception. And just as people can manage the impression that they make through their choice of attire, so, too, can the crafting of the headline subtly shift the perception of the text that follows.”
So, if a simple headline can direct you to a particular train of thought, imagine what an entire article can do. From UK’s Brexit Referendum to USA’s Presidential Election, there are billions of false news that are aimed at simply manipulating the reader’s perception. The single most memorable image of the Brexit referendum campaign was the Vote Leave ‘battle bus’ carrying a message claiming that quitting the EU would free up £350 million a week that could be invested in Britain’s National Health Service. In fact, Britain’s largest-ever net yearly contribution to the EU, in 2014, was equivalent to less than £100 million. Says Mr Schrieberg: “People were swayed by simplistic message, which we’ve seen too in the US, in an age when we are constantly battered by information and are not necessarily sourcing that information as we should. The drive toward simple solutions and simple analyses rather than going deep into issues that require deep thinking is a temptation that is fed by the internet.”
With a bit of patience, curiosity, persistence, and a critical eye to keep questioning yourself, it is a first and very important step to debunk false information.
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