Fake news is a specific, vile thing. It’s done tremendous damage to brands and to political campaigns going back hundreds of years. It’s not news you don’t like.
Types of fake news
Fake news can be intentionally or unwittingly created or perpetuated by individuals or institutions including news organizations, businesses and governments.
Producers of fake news might intentionally spread lies for personal gain and self-promotion, to influence outcomes at scale, wreak havoc on the public or particular targets, or all the above.
Those who see and share fake news, believing it to be true, can unwittingly advance it through their own sharing, reporting or other forms of socialization.
The president of the United States has put fake news on the map, mislabeling reports and news organizations as fake while creating a ton of fake news of his own. But he is certainly not the only one.
Fake news source
Look up the name Paul Horner. He’s a fake news producer. He calls what he does satire.
In November, he told the Washington Post he earns $10,000 a month in digital ad sales through Google’s advertising placement service AdSense.
He says he hates Donald Trump and his intent was to write satirical stories that the Trump administration would socialize as real news. He says he believed once others discovered the stories weren’t real the administration would look stupid.
Horner says what surprised him was that nobody was fact checking anything.
Google News actually picked-up his stories & ran with them. Facebook users shared the stories hundreds of thousands of times.
He told the Washington Post, even when the stories were proved false it was as-if facts didn’t matter.
This is what fake news can look like. This is Horner’s stuff.
One can see how people might be confused. This looks a little like ABC, although the logo is off and the headline is hard to believe.
Another report from Horner bore the headline: Obama Signs Executive Order Declaring Investigation Into Election Results; Re-vote Planned For Dec. 19.
That one had more than a quarter million shares on Facebook.
The current problem of fake news is not only its creation, but also its perpetuation. The act of sharing a fake story amplifies its impact. So how do you spot it to avoid contributing to the problem?
Tips for spotting fake news
There are some basic things you can do to spot a fake.
You can follow the URLs. Rather than blindly sharing an article, go back to the source. See what else is on the site. Pay attention to any clear bias or absurd stories and headlines.
You can also seek corroborating evidence of authenticity. For example is there a date on the news stories? Is a site following best practices and disclosing the reporter’s name and sharing a profile? And if so, does that profile sound farfetched?
For example, an author profile on Horner’s site reads:
Born at an early age, Jimmy Rustling has found solace and comfort knowing that his humble actions have made this multiverse a better place for every man, woman and child ever known to exist. Dr. Jimmy Rustling has won many awards for excellence in writing including fourteen Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes. When Jimmies are not being Rustled the kind Dr. enjoys being an amazing husband to his beautiful, soulmate; Anastasia, a Russian mail order bride of almost 2 months. Dr. Rustling also spends 12-15 hours each day teaching their adopted 8-year-old Syrian refugee daughter how to read and write.
Let’s break this down.
“Born at an early age”
“Won 14 Peabody Awards”
The Peabody’s are highly prestigious. For reference, veteran reporter Christiane Amanpour has four.
“Handful of Pulitzer Prizes”
Fewer than 70 people have won more than one Pulitzer Prize.
The line “When Jimmies are not being Rustled” is clear nonsense as are claims of spending 12 to 15 hours a day teaching an 8-year old.
Another way to spot a purveyor of fake news is to check out the “About Us” tab or search the site’s name to find out more information about it.
Look for odd URLs. Some fake news sites adopt URLs that resemble legitimate news sources, but add extra letters like “.co” or “.de”. The Jimmy Rustling bio bears a URL that reads “http://cnn.com.de/author/cnncom/” CNN.com.de is not CNN.com.
For help sorting it out, you can follow fact-checking sites like Politifact.com. It’s working with Facebook to create a list of sites posting deliberately fake or false stories.
Facebook and Google have made efforts to ban fake new organizations from using their advertising platforms but the effect is not yet clear.
If you’re a brand that gets caught up in your own fake news nightmare respond quickly. Treat it as crisis communication. Get the facts out. Read more about fending off the risk from fake news.
This post is from a presentation i.e. network CEO and founder Rick Kupchella delivered to the Minnesota Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.
i.e. network is a strategic marketing & communications firm that helps brands leverage news – to build trust, credibility and thought leadership.