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The Rise of “Fake News”

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This previous election brought a new term to our vernacular: Fake News. This term has become synonymous to our everyday lives, introduced by then presidential candidate Donald Trump. Calling out news outlets, particularly CNN, for reporting what he believed to be inaccurate news stories, the term fake news has become to be much more than that. With the rise of social media companies like facebook and twitter, many people are using these sites as their only source of news. While they can be a good resource for news if you follow the proper people and companies, there is a currently a concerning topic of many headlines peddling fake stories. The issue with this is people seeing them as real, and believing these false stories.

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Political stories are often the victim of fake headlines, usually appearing on Facebook or Twitter from what appears to be a reputable news station. One headline that made waves last year was titled, “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools”. This blatantly false headline was shared and like over 2.1 million times by people on Facebook. A more recent example was in the direct aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, with stories popping up on Twitter spreading rumors of multiple shooters, bomb threats, and terrorist connections.

To protect yourself from falling victim to false news stories, there are a few things you can do to check the validity of the article you’re reading. First you’ll want to look at the URL and domain of the website. Sites ending in odd looking domains like www.abcnews.com.co are most likely a non-legitimate source of news. Reputable news organizations will typically have a standard look to their website URL. Another way to check the validity of a story is going to news organizations website and read the “About Us” section. Reputable sources will have a thorough section on the news company, so be on the lookout for information that seems overblown or dramatic. If a story has little to no quotes, that is another characteristic of fake news. Most publications have multiple sources, with controversial topics including even more sources.

If you’re wondering what social media companies are doing to combat fake news, there are some measures being taken. Facebook is partnering with factcheck.org to allow users to report fake news stories. By utilizing its many users, Facebook and factcheck.org will be able to flag false news stories, and stop the spread of misinformation. Reddit, known for its extremely active users, have effectively been able to police the spread of fake stories. Users will often fact-check stories that seem bogus, and will downvote users that post them. Twitter is a little different in taking a stance against fake news. Though as an organization that is inherently against the spread of misinformation, it is a little more difficult for them to prevent. Twitter allows for users to report inflammatory information, and is in the process of testing a button that will allow users to report what they think is fake news. However, it is still in development and has not been released to the entire user base.

Stopping the spread of fake news and misinformed stories is paramount to keeping people correctly informed on the world around them. With a button allowing users to report fake news seems like a good thing to do, but it brings about the potential for abuse. If someone reads an article that they don’t agree with or find offensive, they can flag it as a fake news story. This can create a problem with censoring stories that others don’t agree with, inherently denying those of their freedom of speech. Social media outlets will have to do what they can to best determine the validity of such reports. These are strange times going into 2018, where will we have to begin to be more vigilant in checking our news sources. Follow the steps above, and keep your mind sharp to not fall victim to misinformation.

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind, I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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