Fake news is nothing new, but social media helps magnify the power of misinformation when stories can go viral across several applications — reaching millions of consumers — in minutes. What’s the purpose? In an interview with CNN, Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, reports that research into fake news confirms several claims made during the 2016 presidential election. This includes claims that Russia’s propaganda machine employed thousands of paid human “trolls,” as well as botnets, to spread misleading and downright false information about everything from Hillary Clinton’s health to the recent “pizzagate” story that reported a pedophilia ring was being run from a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor and led by — who else — Hillary Clinton.
Watts claims such propaganda is generally aimed at traditional right-wing, neo-Nazi, and fascist organizations. The purpose is to promote pro-Russia ideals and erode trust in mainstream American media and even government institutions.
Tips to Spot Fake News
The (sometimes) understandable mistrust of mainstream media has led many intelligent people to look for news in alternative sources. But not all news sites are equal, and not all news is news. Before reacting to or sharing an evocative story from an alternative site, do a little research of your own.
Read the story. All news organizations strive to use attention-getting headlines, but reading beyond headlines, especially those which are particularly “click baity,” is crucial. If a headline states something that sounds incredibly unusual, read the whole story before believing and repeating the headline as fact.
About who? A legitimate news source will have a legitimate “About” page. If yours doesn’t have one at all or they bill themselves as a “fantasy” news site, find another source.
Who wrote it? An importance piece of breaking news should have a byline (many fake stories include no author at all) and that writer’s credentials should be easy to verify.
What’s the supporting information? Jimmy Noname has an absolute right to set up a newsy blog and write whatever nonsense he likes, but Jimmy’s unfounded opinions aren’t news. Don’t repeat them as if they are.
Fact check. If something sounds fishy, if no other mainstream sources are covering it, or if the information seems to feed into a specific bias, check another source. Snopes, Fact Check, and Politifact are three well-respected online sites for getting the facts straight.