You’re scrolling on Twitter, you see a shocking headline, and you share the article. You then go about your business and don’t give the article a second thought. We’ve all done this and have probably never stopped to think about the repercussions.
As a social media manager, I’ve been monitoring the rise of fake news and how often misinformation is shared across social media while keeping my clients updated on this dangerous and potentially costly social trend. Today, I’ll walk you through the rise of fake news, the social platforms attempting to stop it, and what you can do to spot it.
According to the Associated Press, “fake news consists of deliberately false stories that appear to come from credible, journalistic sources. They’re designed to be spread around the internet—previously as jokes, but increasingly often, to influence political opinion.”
Although the idea behind fake news isn’t new, the term really took off after the 2016 election. Since then, I’ve witnessed firsthand how quickly fake news gets shared on social media without much thought. And, because 1 in 5 adults get their news from social media, it’s becoming easier and easier to publish misinformation that gains traction. One or two shares of a fake news article? Not a big deal. But when a hundred of your friends and family members share the same article, too, you may be inclined to believe it—even if the story is completely made up.
Take the 2016 story about a Washington, DC, pizzeria. A tweet falsely reported that Comet Ping Pong was being used as a front for a child sex ring led by Hillary Clinton, then the Democratic presidential candidate. The fake Twitter post got over one million shares. And, as a result of this fake news article, 28-year-old Edgar Welch fired his rifle into the establishment. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
And this isn’t an isolated event. Welch wasn’t the first individual to be misled by a fake news article and take action, and he won’t be the last.
For years now, people have turned to their favorite social media platforms in hopes of finding a solution to the spread of fake news. In 2017, Snapchat updated its content guidelines for Discover—a section of the app where notable news organizations publish content—and “now requires publications to fact-check articles for accuracy, not publish misleading or deceptive links, and not impersonate or claim to be a person or organization with the intention to confuse or misleads others.”
In India, TikTok is battling political fake news with text asking for safe sharing. When users search for politically related hashtags, a PSA appears at the top of the app. The text reads: “In light of upcoming elections, we request you to continue using TikTok in a responsible way. Please do not upload or share any unlawful content on TikTok. Guard against fake news by always referring to verified news sources.” According to a TikTok representative, this PSA should be seen as one of many steps it has taken to stop the spread of fake news and “to ensure the app is ‘used in a manner that it is intended for.’”
In the summer of 2019, Twitter bought a UK-based startup to help the social media giant put a stop to the spread of fake news on their platform. According to this VentureBeat article, the startup, Fabula AI, “uses machine learning to help detect the spread of misinformation online.” Fabula AI will study the Twitter landscape, and use its technology to “improve the health of the conversation, as well as products, including the timeline, recommendations, the Explore tab, and the onboarding experience.”
More recently, in what seems to be a precaution for the 2020 US presidential election, the BBC, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have provided strategies against misinformation campaigns that include “an early warning system for use during elections or when lives may be at risk, extra online education, and improved access to impartial resources for voters.”
The next time you’re browsing social media, take the following steps to ensure you’re not helping to spread misinformation:
Every day, more and more misinformation is being distributed to the masses through social media. It’s important that you do your best research before falling for the fake news trap. For more tips on spotting fake news, check out this helpful Facebook article.