Seriously, People – Stop Sharing Fake News On Facebook
As Abraham Lincoln famously stated, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
Sadly, a lot of you do. In fact, if you had believed everything you read on the internet over the last year or so, then you might actually believe that George Zimmerman sold a painting of Trayvon Martin for $30,000, the CDC says the ebola vaccine only works on white people, a dead man was mistaken for a prop for two weeks in a haunted house, the Native American Council has offered amnesty to 220 million undocumented whites, or that Michelle Obama claimed her life was more difficult than a US soldier’s. Oh, and you may have also believed that quote actually came from Abraham Lincoln. (Sorry!)
If you believed any of these posts, I’m sorry to break it to you: they’re fabricated lies that claim to be “satire”. While some of these “satire” posts are easy to spot, the vast majority aren’t – particularly if you’re not paying attention. In fact, even the New York Times and many other well-established media outlets have fallen prey to these articles.
The vast majority of these posts aren’t sarcastic, snarky or funny. They’re also not satire. You know who does satire right? The Onion and Clickhole. You know who doesn’t? These people.
Why should you care about fake news?
Simple: these sites fabricate stories that play on your emotions in order to make money – a lot of money. Many of these fake news stories aren’t innocuous jokes. Instead, they’re stories that promote fear, anger, distrust, and outrage. Many of them spark racial hatred, many others serve to promote someone’s personal agenda. Basically, they only serve to make the world a worse place. The worst part: the people who post these stories are making plenty of money by inciting these emotions. Some of them are making lots of money.
In a recent post on New Republic, SEO expert Joseph Finkelstein points out:
“The way they make money is all in the headlines— they’re designed to be inflammatory but just believable enough to entice partisans to click on them—or better yet, share them—without looking too hard. Each page is so loaded up with revenue-generating advertisements that as long as they can get people to click over for a minute, they’re making money.”
In short, every time you share one of those posts, you’re only helping to stir up negative emotions, put money in some asshole’s pocket, and probably make yourself look pretty naive. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to avoid spreading lies on Facebook. Don’t be lazy, don’t make yourself look stupid – it takes just one minute to check for fake news before you share!
1. Read before you share
The most interesting thing I’ve learned about human behavior as a social media manager is this: the majority people do not read shit before they share it or like it. Once a post goes ‘viral’, it’s very common to have data that doesn’t match up. For example, a post that’s gained a lot of traction on Facebook may have 5,500 shares and 20,000 likes… but only 10,000 views. In other words, at least 10,000 people “endorsed” that post without ever clicking on the damn link.
2. Look down
Many times, Facebook will surface “Related Content” below articles – and quite often one of those related posts will be a Snopes.com post relating to what you’ve just read.
3. Question everything
Is this an outrageous story that shocks the hell out of you, but you haven’t seen posted anywhere else? If so…
4. Consider the source
Sorry to break it to you, but most major stories are picked up by mainstream media before they hit random blogs. If this story isn’t from one of the major media outlets, then…
5. Google it
Seriously – a Google search takes what, 30 seconds? Search the post title – many times, you’ll find a Snopes.com post on the topic in the first few results. You can also Google the site url – if it’s a common offender, Google will produce plenty of results pointing to the fact that this site can’t be trusted.
6. Look at the url
Sorry, but don’t believe anything that comes from a blogspot.com or wordpress.com account. If they can’t be bothered to spend $10 to buy a freaking domain name, then they’re a questionable news source. On the flip side, many fake news sites will use domain names that sound a lot like mainstream media – ex. nbcdailynews.com.
7. Check the site
Do they have an “About Us” page with actual information? (Most fake news sites simply have a contact form and no information about them.) Are there actual author names attached to posts? If so, does the bio sound normal? (Most fake sites post no author name, or if they do, the authors tend to be fictional and have bizarre bios). You can also tell a lot by the way the site looks. Is it cluttered with questionable ads? Does the page formatting look like shit? Are there obvious mistakes? Yes, these are gross generalizations – but they can be warning signs.
8. Tell the original poster
Hey, good job! You did your research before sharing and discovered that a story was fake. If you found the story on a friend’s Facebook page, be a pal and leave a comment letting them know that the article is phony.
9. Familiarize yourself
Look through a list of the most popular sites that spew phony stories. We’ve provided a list below.
10. Spread the word Know someone that constantly posts phony stories? Share these tips with them.
Highly questionable websites
There are also a ton of highly questionable websites floating around – and some of these also happen to be sites that are shared the most on Facebook. Any site that is pushing one “side” of things hard is pretty damn suspect. Sure, most of these sites aren’t blatantly lying… but they also aren’t always being honest, either.
For example, the popular site Natural News (naturalnews.com) takes real scientific studies, but spins them to support their revenue stream (this article cites a pretty good example). Now, why would they do such a thing? Simple – the way they make money is through both ads and sales at the Natural News store. Their fear-mongering posts serve to push sales for what makes them money. This isn’t to say there isn’t solid advice to be found on the site (i.e. we all know processed food is shit, the US has pretty low standards for what we allow in our foods, etc.)
Essentially, you should do your own research before fully believing anything you read on a site that relies too heavily on fear-mongering or is SOLELY pushing one agenda – for example, theantimedia.org, conservativepost.com, conservativetribune.com, themindunleashed.org, universalfreepress.com (UFP), patriotnewswire.com, collective-evolution.com, just to name a few. Read,do your research, and form your OWN opinion based on said research – don’t just believe whatever someone behind a computer tells you to believe. Which leads me to my next point…
Journalist’s code of ethics
Anyone who’s an actual, professional journalist is held to a code of ethics that hold them accountable to what they write and the manner in which they do so. Sure – just like there are awful doctors who don’t live up to the Hippocratic Oath, there are journalists that do the same. And, of course, we all know that there are also certain publications or news networks that are more reliable than others.
However, it’s important to note that just because someone writes “articles” on the internet, it doesn’t make them a journalist. The internet has made it incredibly easy for anyone to act as a journalist without being held to that same code of ethics… myself included.
Bottom line? When reading something online, question everything before you react.