It’s been almost a year since Facebook and Google admitted they had a problem with fake news. It’s a problem that won’t go away and seems to rear its ugly head at the worst moments.
In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, ABC News reported that Facebook’s “Crisis Response” for the shooting featured a false article misidentifying the gunman and stating he was a “far left loon.” Google had similar problems. In its “Top Stories” results, Google promoted a story from the anonymous prankster site 4chan.
Both companies rushed to address the issues by tweaking their algorithms. But as recently as yesterday, a Las Vegas conspiracy video was the eighth result when searching about the shooting on YouTube.
So, what’s going wrong? The biggest problem—if we can face it—is us. These complex algorithms and automated services tend to emphasize posts that best engage an audience, which is exactly what fake news is designed to do. The more we take the bait, the more we’re served this type of content.
Earlier this month, Facebook began rolling out a test of a new “i” button on News Feed links that opens an informational panel about the news source. The goal is to give users better tools to help them understand if an article is from a publisher they trust as a way to evaluate if the story itself is credible.
But that still puts the onus on us to understand the context and evaluate a source. Like so much in life, it’s easier to just believe—and click on—what fits into our own worldview.
What can you do?
Our client Bridge Magazine published a great story package on Michigan’s political bubbles and how a conservative and two liberals tried to burst their own personal news bubbles by swapping news feeds for a week. While it didn’t go well in their case, hundreds of readers responded, wanting to try the same exercise. The participants learned a lot.
You can participate too. Sign up for tips on how to burst your own news bubble here. See which news outlets to follow for the swap here.
Follow these tips from Facebook
Facebook provides its own tips for how to spot false news in its help center. You can also learn more about the work the company is doing to stop the spread of false news here.
- Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
- Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.
- Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their “About” section to learn more.
- Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
- Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
- Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
- Check the evidence. Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
- Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
- Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.
- Some stories are intentionally false. Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.
If you see a story in News Feed that you believe is false, you can report it to Facebook.
- Click the three dots next to the post you’d like to mark as false
- Click Report post
- Click It’s a false news story
- Click Mark this post as false news