“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Queen
Most of us share news content with friends and family – usually something which is important to us or perhaps something which makes us laugh.
But do you know if the story is true and factually correct before you share it? Well you should.
In some ways how we consume media has enabled the increase in what is now called ‘fake news’. We expect to be able to access news 24/7 either through websites or social media and this has put pressure on the media to publish stories quickly. It has also opened up the news cycle to many more publishers and broadcasters than ever before, many of who don’t share the reputable media’s concern for accuracy but instead chase clicks, likes and shares using ‘clickbait’ headlines and made up shock stories that add to a general distrust of traditional media institutions.
Confirmation bias, which is wired into our cognitive processes, also means that we are accustomed to seeking out information which fits with our own beliefs and skip over facts which go against them – even if this means believing stories that aren’t accurate over ones that are.
This erosion of trust in the media is bad news for business. Trust is essential for our clients and their stakeholders and as PR practitioners it is our job to combat fake news.
So – how do you spot a fake news story?
- Use your discretion and common sense, if it sounds too good (or too bad!) to be true it most likely isn’t.
- If something sounds so terrible it shocks you to your core – fact check it first before sharing with anyone else.
- Check your sources. If only one news outlet is reporting a story, the likelihood is that it is dubious at best. Contrary to some claims reputable media outlets are not some grand conspiracy, so if they don’t report something don’t assume that only sites like dailybuzzlive.com, infowars.com or realnewsrightnow.com have the real scoop. You may need to turn to more reputable sources like the BBC or the Guardian.
- Look out for sources and links – or the lack thereof. A lack of links or sources in an article which is making a number of claims is a warning sign the story might be fake. Also check the links are going to a reputable source and not just more fake news.
- Does the article match the headline? Facebook is a prime target for clickbait where people will publish a controversial title to get you to click through to an article which is totally irrelevant.
So what can we do about it? In his recently published manifesto Mark Zuckerberg stated that social media is providing a more diverse viewpoint and different perspectives. He goes on to say that ‘accuracy of information is very important’ and that ‘a strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community’. Facebook has already started fighting against fake news and installed a ‘it’s a false news story’ button into posts which can help users identify fake stories but Zuckerberg stressed that oppressing opinion is not his aim and states: “In a free society, it’s important that people have the power to share their opinion, even if others think they’re wrong.”
Google is also monitoring fake news and is banning websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service.
You too can join the fight against fake news – by sharing wisely. You’re an influencer (whether you believe it or not) to your social media followers; so remember with great power comes great responsibility. Look out for your friends too; if they’re sharing fake news break it to them gently and point them in the direction of trustworthy news sources.
With the rise of social content, trusting responsible sources is more important than ever. Share, and support, reputable sources and you will be helping journalists do their research – if everyone did this maybe real news would spread faster than fake stories.
So keep your fake news radar on at all times and share news wisely.