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Real vs. Fake News on Facebook

Feb. 24, 2017
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If you have a Facebook account, you’ve most likely seen fake news pop up on your timeline during this last election cycle. Hoax news stories have been widespread over the social media site during the past year. In fact, fake news was a major player in the presidential election. The Washington Post reported that a multitude of fake news reports received the support of Russian propaganda efforts in hopes to perpetuate Americans’ distrust in the media and democracy. 

While other social media sites and search engines like Google have their respective issues with fake news, Facebook is under fire for failing to prevent the spread of faux news stories across the platform, and they have been the center of a fierce debate on whether or not its fake news problem helped to sway the election. However, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, claims that fake news on Facebook did not affect the election. “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on November 12th. 

Yet, Buzzfeed found that:

“In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.”

If less than 1% of what people see is fake, then how did fake news dominate Facebook this election season? This evidence justifies the many complaints that Facebook isn’t doing enough to combat its rampant fake news problem. While Zuckerberg claims he will take more steps to improve the quality and factuality of the news feed, he also argues that “identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.” 

Is it really, though?

Most of the fake news stories dominating Facebook are offensive in their ridiculous, accusatory headlines. Take, for example, attention-grabbing (and fake) shockers like these: Hillary Clinton Sold Weapons to ISIS and It Was Confirmed by WikiLeaks, Pope Francis Endorses Trump for President, and Obama Signs a Nationwide Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance in Schools.

The spread of these types of fake news articles is volatile in a world where so many people consume a majority of their news on social media. If nothing is done to solve this problem, the line between fact and fiction will all but disappear.

But, the good news is that we don’t have to wait for Facebook to fully solve this issue. All readers and Facebook users can take immediate action to be aware of the content they interact with.

For one, users should be absolutely sure to read more than just the headline of any story, no matter the source. Headlines of fake news sources are completely misleading and, duh, fake. Reading deeply into the article will force you to look for other details that might legitimize (or, rather, disprove) the source, such as its author, date of publication, and the news source itself. 

Users should also research the news source. Is this legitimate source of information? Is this company well-known? Does the website look like it was made by a twelve-year-old in a computer class? 

All it takes is a simple Google search to figure out if a source is actually credible or not. Also, look for any sources or links used in the piece. Is there anything cited? Is the source cited credible? 

All of this isn’t nearly as important (or arguably as easy) as simply finding out if any other news outlets have reported the story in question. Just look it up. See if it’s on any major news outlets or accredited media sources. If it can’t be found anywhere else, it’s almost always going to be fake. 

Finally, all users should absolutely not be afraid or hold back in letting a friend know that they’ve shared a fake source. It is important to make sure your friends and family are aware of what is factual and what has been proven otherwise and to do what you can to stop the spread of fake news online. Then, hopefully, tech and media leaders will follow our lead in taking major action to combat this concerning issue.