Fake news: it’s been around since the dawn of language, although most of us around today will remember it as outrageous headlines in the Sunday paper or on tabloid magazine covers that make you do a double-take.
While fake news is certainly old news, it’s taken on a whole new form in the digital world as social media and news websites have become a staple activity in everyday life. This ‘sharing’ aspect of news stories has brought about an interesting social change: not only are we discussing news more often with more people who may not necessarily be part of our immediate social circle, we’re also receiving news from a far wider range of sources than the newspapers and free-to-air news channels of old. With all this variety, some of it is bound to be a little bit sketchy when it comes to the facts.
If you’ve ever been caught out by a Facebook news post that you thought was real, this one’s for you: we’ve put together some handy hints to help you take a step back and assess a piece of news before you choose whether or not to react to it.
Of course, this isn’t just about dodgy fact-checking: there’s also a booming business in satirical and joke news, which is basically popular because it’s funny. Why spend time writing a dull political update when an incredibly sarcastic lampoon will end up being a thousand times more popular with readers?
A prime example of satire would be the great “avocado toast” debacle of 2017, which reached worldwide notoriety after a millionaire made comments on 60 Minutes about younger generations buying avocado toast instead of saving for mortgages. The sentiment of these comments resonated badly with a lot of people, leading to spoof articles such as this very literal piece from The Shovel.
While entertaining, this approach to news can get hairy when someone who isn’t in on the joke comes across it, especially where politics are involved. Rest assured that if a piece of news is coming from any of these popular satire sites, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously (fair warning for anyone reading at work: many of these sites use profanity):
… and that’s just a few of them. You can check out a longer list on Wikipedia.
Sadly, not all fake news stories are so obvious or even intended as satire or jokes. Misinformation campaigns and dangerous hoaxes are as old as time (just ask the Business Insider) so it’s important to be prepared to do a little fact-checking. Here’s some things to consider when you encounter a news story on the internet:
If you believe a story is fake, some social media sites (such as Facebook) may have a “Report” function so that you can flag it and help get it removed. If not, at least you can ignore it and save yourself the bother of getting riled up about something that’s not real.
Do you have a top tip for spotting fake news? Share it with us in the comments.