If you're active on social media, odds are that you've shared fake news, with or without the intention of doing so--and you're not alone.
Spurred by the controversy stemming from fake news stories on the internet during the US election, the Pew Research Center recently performed a study on the impact of false information online. The study revealed that nearly one-fourth of Americans (23%) have shared a fake news story and 14% of them say they shared it with the knowledge that it was fake. The most disconcerting fact comes from a BuzzFeed study showing that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined. Apparently, Americans love a piece of juicy gossip, but what's the trade-off?
The Pew study revealed that about two-in-three US citizens say that fake news stories cause great confusion about the basic facts of current issues. With an abundance of distorted and false information flooding social media, confusing public perception of any given issue, how is it possible to, say, place an educated vote in a Presidential election? Of even greater concern, how is it possible for people around the world to feel safe when alarming claims that NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval? Or that NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges? These unsettling, fake claims were spread on the internet, allegedly by the Kremlin, just this past summer as Sweden was considering a military partnership with NATO, Russia's greatest foe. Alarmingly, it is said that the spreading of fake and alarming news is Russia's powerful secret weapon.
Facebook is doing its part by engaging fact checkers, making it easier for users to report hoaxes and fake news, and disrupting the financial incentives of fake news spammers and domain spoofing ads. Many sites rake in huge profits when page views skyrocket with the dissemination of engaging gossip and false reports.
With 44% of US adults getting their intake of daily news from Facebook, these moves will hopefully have a significant impact on this growing dilemma. Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg posted an update on Facebook's commitment to fight against misinformation, hopefully making the site a more reliable resource.
Google was the first to act. Last month the Silicon Valley search giant said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service.
How can we, as social media users and possible spreaders of inaccurate information step up to the plate? By using common sense, technology, and fact checking.
Consider installing this browser extension (for both Chrome and Mozilla-based browsers). The B.S. Detector searches links for references to unreliable sources and provides visual warnings about the presence of questionable links and websites. It also adds a warning label to the top of questionable sites, as well as link warnings on Facebook and Twitter.
If a link leads to a resource you've never heard of or one that appears overly sensational, don't share it at all. If you're tempted to share, but uncertain of the claim's validity, perform your due diligence by fact-checking first. Here are just a few online sources to help with that.
FactCheck.org--A nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.
Politifact.com--Reporters and editors from the St. Petersburg Times fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists, and interest groups.
Snopes.com--Said to be one of the best online resources that debunks urban legends and rumors on a huge number of topics.
HoaxSlayer.com--This site strives to reveal email hoaxes, combat spam, and educate the public about online security issues.
Most importantly, please remember: technology is not the leading issue here, we are. Each of us is personally responsible for what we choose to share with others. Please take that responsibility seriously.