The war against fake news
By Diane Cooke
Fake news is nothing new. It used to be called propaganda and played a huge part in both world wars.
According to The Telegraph, in World War One, the British government used propaganda effectively in motivating the population against Germany, which was frequently depicted as "The Hun".
The Nazi party used the growing mass media to build a power base and then consolidate power in Germany during the 1930s, using racial stereotyping to encourage discrimination against Jews. In the ensuing Second World War, the propaganda machine was used relentlessly by all sides across the media spectrum.
Adam Tinworth, business journalist and publishing strategist, says today's journalists are involved in a culture war - print versus the internet - to bring truth to the masses.
In One Man and His Blog the point is made that the alt-right are good at narratives and skilled at packaging them in images and video rather than text. Journalists, however, are more comfortable with text and not very good at narrative. But narratives are what the people want – and, more importantly, what they “share” on social media. So journalism has to evolve and quickly.
But it's not as simple as fact-checking when, according to The Guardian, perceived 'reliable sources' are anything but.
"Among the many sites on the web that relay high-level commentary on foreign affairs is the Center for Global Strategic Monitoring. The website describes it as “a nonprofit and nonpartisan research and analysis institution dedicated to providing… a viable informed resource to the public, the media and politicians. It aims to play a positive role and offer proper tools for understanding and decision-making that define the relationship between the United States and the world.”
"In order to carry out this laudable mission, the site lists an impressive stable of “experts”. Among them is one Brian Mefford, described as “a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center”. But guess what? Mr Mefford says that he had never agreed to serve as one of the Center’s “experts” and his emails asking for his name to be removed have gone unanswered. The site’s modus operandi, he claims, involves republishing analysis from respectable research institutions, mixing them with “news” from Russian-controlled sources without attribution and possibly even posting some fake articles under the names of distinguished scholars."
So while journalism is involved in a clash of the Titans, how is the public supposed to decide what is real or fake?
How Stuff Works, 10 Ways to Spot A Fake News Story says: "Let's say you're interested in a story with the headline, 'President Obama Suffers Heart Attack.' That certainly sounds plausible. But if some of the other headlines on the site read 'Grandmother Mates with Croc,' '9-Year-Old Accidentally Discovers Cure for Cancer', you should be wary." Incidentally, here's some info about How Stuff Works, just in care you're wondering if it's a fake site.
One of the easiest ways to figure out if a news story is legitimate or not is to check it against the stories posted on other reputable sites. Simply conduct an online search for "President Obama heart attack" and see what comes up. If sites like The New York Times, CBS or CNN are running the same story, it's likely true.
Here's another - is the article missing citations, references, or links? Is the author’s name missing? If the author’s name is listed, are they a trustworthy individual? Check it all out - if you have the time.
What can you find in the “About Us” section of a website? On the top or bottom of most websites, you should see a section titled “About Us”, see this example on The Onion, a satirical site. This section should give you a brief run-down of the mission and goals of the site. Do they aspire to post trustworthy news? Do they have an authoritative team of journalists and writers? Or is it a website that allows the general public to post articles? Reading about the website that hosts the article can help you determine if they post trustworthy sources.
Does the article only showcase one side of an argument? News articles are essentially meant to inform you by showing all sides of a topic; the good, the bad, and the ugly. If an article only features one viewpoint, the reader should remind themselves that they’re not seeing the full picture. Be cautious of news articles that only report one side of the story.
Does the story make you angry? Does it seem to tap into your innermost insecurity or fear? Maybe it was about the government secretly spying on you. Don't automatically believe what you just read and pass it on. Many false news stories purposely play on our fears and anxieties, knowing that doing so will make people follow their emotions and not their brains.
So how can you prevent the spread of fake news?
If you believe something is incorrect, simply do not share it with others. Sharing fake news articles pushes them higher up in search result pages, causing others to come across them quickly and believing the content.
Some sites, such as Facebook, allow you to flag posts that are harmful or inappropriate - it's also waging its own war on the fake news issue at present. If you believe that a news story is false, make sure to report it to the host so they can take it down if necessary.