Can you tell the difference and does it matter?
2016 was the year of the fake news story and 2017 hasn’t started out too great either. Not that fake news is anything new, but there appears to have been a recent seismic shift towards publishing and circulating blatant lies.
How do you feel about fake news? Have you posted a story on your social media timeline, only to later learn that it was a fake? If so, how did you respond and do you think it matters?
How good are you at spotting a fake news story? Guess which of these stories is true and which is fake?
- An 11-Year-Old Girl Brought A Knife To School To Ward Off Evil Clowns
- Fleetwood Mac Buried In Dog Avalanche
- Great Britain’s Olympic Team Discovered That Matching Luggage Was A Bad Idea.
- Hillary Cancelled Her Last Public Event Because The Crowd Yelled “Lock Her Up”.
- Obama Warned Trump: “Don’t Attack My Wife Or There’ll Be Hell To pay”.
- Pensioner Stuck In Bath For Four Days Survived By Topping Up Hot Water And Drinking From Tap.
- “Man Hospitalised After “Mugged” By Squirrels”
- Donald Trump Said Republicans Are The ‘Dumbest Group Of Voters’.
- 89-Year-Old Man Digs His Own Grave
- China Bans “Fatty” Kim Jong Un Nickname In Websites
See how you got on by finding out which stories are true and which are fake later on in this blog.
The deluge of fake news stories and the damage they cause has forced companies like Google and Facebook to work on putting systems in place to try to stem the flood of lies online.
Simon Oxenham of newscientist.com suggests that several studies prove that “even the most obvious fake news starts to become believable if it’s shared enough times”.
In the 1940’s researchers found that “the more a rumour is told, the greater is its plausibility”. They suggested that a rumour originating out of mild suspicion can, with consistent repetition, shift public thinking and opinion.
That’s pretty scary given some of the fake stories repeatedly circulating on social media at the moment. Researchers did however find that a person’s prior knowledge still has a big influence on their beliefs.
Let’s pause for a moment and see how many fake stories you were able to spot from the list above?
- Girl from Athens, Georgia heard “stories about clowns jumping out of the woods” police said.
- Made-up headline from 1990’s satirical news show The Day Today.
- Gold medal-winning rower Alex Gregory among those who joked about Heathrow chaos.
- The brain-child of the Yes I’m Right website, one of many fake news sites.
- From Addicting Info, which claims to “discredit all the lies the right-wing spreads”.
- Poor Doreen Mann from Southend, Essex.
- Richard Williams, 87, was cleaning his garage when he was attacked in San Francisco.
- A fabricated quote that he didn’t give to People Magazine in the 1980’s.
- Jimmy Kickham from Souris West, Canada really did dig his own grave.
- Searches for the Chinese words “Jin San Pang” returned no results.
How did you do?
Unfortunately many studies suggest that we are not very good at spotting a fake. Our innate sense of curiosity and our tendency to trust online sources draws us to the extravagant, the extreme and the shocking, but we do ourselves, and countless others, a great favour by refusing to be drawn into engaging with and circulating lies.
Here’s how you we protect ourselves from fake stories:
- Check who produced the story. The URL will often indicate that a website is pretending to be reputable by stealing the name and style of another publication.
- Check other stories on the website. Fake news websites often have nothing but fake content. If all the stories are outrageous, it’s probably a fake news site.
- Search for coverage of the story elsewhere. If a story is false, it’ll likely be exposed on websites such as snopes.com
- We read in the Bible the words of Jesus, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). We live in a world where truth is becoming a rare commodity. It takes discipline to seek it out, but when we do, and when we discover the truth, we will be free from the fear and hopelessness that a lie produces.