Fake News? How do you know they are telling you the truth?
Fake News has been around ever since people first passed on information to each other in order to promote themselves or discredit another position. Historically, it was often just seen as telling lies and as being part of the sensationalist media. In Germany today, fake news, is often called the Lugenpresse or lying press. .
Fake news stories make money. In the newspapers we are familiar with stories based on the imagination of the writer, a biased angle, a cash payment and some dodgy sources of information and these are nothing new. A newer phenomenon is where fake news is disseminated via dodgy websites solely with the aim to generate clicks and send money to the site.
What is new about fake news is just how widespread it is today. The rise of the internet and social media makes passing on false stories a breeze. And even the established media such as TV channels and the news programs that we used to trust, all come with an agenda that leads to fake news stories appearing on a regular basis.
The term Fake News first came into being about 4 years ago – the expression was popularised by Donald Trump. It seems unbelievable that the President of the USA accuses any personal criticism of himself as being fake news yet seems perfectly comfortable with lying to the public. He does this in ways that nobody really believes but everyone just accepts.
Fake news is often connected to a political agenda or a belief. Its purpose is designed to stir up the emotions without any basis on fact. This is a political culture designed to appeal to the masses and to make them act and feel a certain way and is usually known as post truth politics.
So what makes something Fake News?
Fake news can be literally about anything. Its only requirement is that it is not actually true. The aim of fake news is to deceive or to trick you into acting or feeling a certain way. It can be spread for political reasons or simply because a journalist has paid for a sensationalist story about a celebrity or an event and doesn’t want truth to get in a way of a good story.
Fake News is often passed on via dodgy websites looking to attract attention and to gain revenue.
Fake news can be spread via all the media outlets including the TV, newspapers or even by old style billboards. However it is the internet that has really made it happen. Websites and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter enable fake news to be spread around the planet in seconds.
For example have you seen the so called scientific evidence that vaccines can cause brain damage in children? This type of content can pop up in your Facebook timeline on a regular basis and it does look convincing.
The anti vaxxers are committed in their belief that vaccinating their children is harmful to health and this viewpoint is based entirely on fake news.
In truth the health risks of not vaccinating children are extremely high , yet people still believe this story , accusing the medical experts who advise that all children should be vaccinated of drawing upon fake news themselves.
The statistics make for some grim reading. A study carried out on 2000 American adults found that a whopping 45% of the control group, questioned vaccine safety.
The top three sources cited for this opinion were; online articles at 16 percent, past secrets/wrongdoing by the pharmaceutical industry at 16 percent and information from medical experts at 12 percent
Although the study does not mention it, this adds up to 48% people believing the anti vaxx information they read online.
So How Can you check if you are reading a Fake News Story?
There are five ways of verifying that what you are reading online may actually be fake.
- 1/ You can’t verify the claims. Are there any links to any sources? Are there any names or dates mentioned? If there are links, do they lead back to a relevant or reputable source? If not the story is likely to be fake.
- 2/ Is it a strong image designed to cause strong emotions? A picture of an animal in distress or a crowd of immigrants storming the border may fire up your emotions so much that you forget to check whether it is actually true and instead just share it further.
- 3/ Who wrote this article? Journalists always get a name check and are happy to stand by their words. If no name has been credited on the article it will have been written by a troll.
- 4/ Does the news story shows up elsewhere? Can you trace it back to a real event that actually happened? If you can’t it suggests that it never did. You may trust the person who passed on the story to you but this doesn’t mean you can trust the story.
- 5/ There are fake news sites out there. They can look convincing and they may have very similar names to reputable media outlets but they are designed to trick you and nothing else.
Why do people create Fake news Stories?
There can be a range of reasons and one of the most compelling reasons is money. A juicy fake news story will generate revenue for the website, because once your readers have found the site they are likely to click on your advertising links.
According to media experts there are broadly four different categories of fake news websites;
- 1: Sensationalist websites that are designed to be shared on Facebook and social media. Many of these rely on creating anger and outrage in order to generate maximum attention in order to generate shares, likes and clicks on the website.
- 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and unproven information in order to promote a viewpoint but provide zero evidence that anything they publish is true. Often these types of websites have a secret agenda such as far right sites or those with other political leanings.
- 3: Websites which are designed to generate clicks. We have all seen those clickbait headlines and so called true life stories. The chances are that the original story never happened or has been so distorted it bears no resemblance to fact. Spooky events, heart warming pet stories, animal rescues, celebrity confessions; all fall into this category.
- 4: Satirical websites, parodies, designed to make us laugh and think. Sometimes these jokes have to potential to be taken seriously if they are shared as being real life news and spread around online out of context.
Political reasons for generating fake news
Donald Trump is well known for fixing the facts to suit his own agenda. And as someone who accuses the media of publishing lies, when it comes to generating fake news himself, he could offer a master class.
This goes right back to his presidential inauguration when the images of the low turnout were doctored in order to make him look more popular.
The photographer photo shopped the space “where the crowd ended” for a new set of pictures that made him look more popular than Barack Obama. This was requested by Trump on the very first morning of his presidency. Many reputable news agencies have confirmed this but Trump, true to form has just branded the accusations as fake news.
Over in the UK, fake news played a significant role in the Brexit referendum. A campaign of fake news and misinformation was widely circulated on Facebook and politicians including Boris Johnson made wild unproven claims that led to victory.
Much of the Brexit vote was generated by the fear that Turkey would enter the EU and that the country would be besieged by 76 million Turkish immigrants entering the country. This was never on the cards and three years on Turkey still hasn’t joined the EU and is unlikely to do so.
If our political leaders are spreading their own fake news how can we trust that anything else that they say is true?
Fake news on the TV news?
It is normal to have differing political opinions but how can we make up our own minds if we can’t even trust the TV news to give us the facts?
The simple answer is that we can’t and an interview with Newt Gingrinch on CNN a couple of years ago explains why. According to Newt, people do not base their perception of truth on facts (which may be distorted) and instead turn to gut instinct and bias to make up their minds in a very unscientific way. This can be condensed into three key points.
- If a complex news story presents facts that you don’t want to hear, you are likely to pick out a couple of sound bites that support your position and use these instead.
- What people feel about a position is more important than what the actual facts behind the issue actually are.
- Nobody believes the facts anyway.
Added to this complication of truths and half truths we all know that each TV station has its own agenda.
You won’t get the same news story on Fox News or the even more right wing Breitbart as you would on the more moderate MSNBC for example. Depending on your belief you are likely to believe one version of the truth over another but there is no way of telling that either one is not manipulating the facts.
Donald Trump loves Fox News and complains that the rest of the media is peddling fake news. It all depends on your viewpoint and whom you want to believe.
So How Do we avoid Fake News?
We can’t avoid fake news but we can avoid reacting to it and to passing it on. And we owe it to ourselves not to be so easily played by other people and triggered into stupid belief systems. Repeating or believing something that we have no way of knowing is true, makes us seem lacking in credibility. We deserve better.
There are still some credible news outlets out there. Yes, everyone does have their own agenda but if you are careful you can work this bias out to get to the truth.
To avoid falling victim to believing everything you read and see on the internet, checking out some basic facts before you just agree with the sentiments will help to keep you fully informed.
The Serious Problem of Fake News
It seems like we are living in a post truth world of alternative facts where rumours and misinformation can spread round the world at a click of the mouse. The faster that this happens, the faster it can lead to whole nations being triggered by events that haven’t actually happened yet.
Essentially most fake news is about division and conflict because this is what sells. It divides people and causes fear and distrust of our neighbours, other countries or anyone that has a different opinion.
This means that before you decide to click and share an upsetting image or something that makes you angry, just find out whether it is actually true. If it is fake news and you decide to share, you are only adding to the problem. CWP