Guest Commentary - Check your source
It was a very interesting election season: Denzel Washington supported Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS, Hillary was disqualified from holding federal office…
During this election season, Facebook came face to face with a long-known media plague: fake news.
Dozens and dozens of misleading stories about the election and statistics went viral on the platform in the “trending” section. In fact, these stories were considered more popular and received more engagement than true, accurate articles. Even Google’s search fell prey to the allure of falsehood.
Of late, it seems that hyper-partisan outlets are spreading misleading, click-bait stories on digital media. This is not a new problem. Fake news and propaganda has been around for as long as news has been around. Legacy news brands are the best way to fight the plague. They have been anti-fake news for generations. The openness of the web has made it staggeringly easy to buy a URL, write whatever you want without fact-checking and spread it through social media.
The algorithms of Facebook and Google lack the human editorial judgment to decide when a story is false. Mark Zuckerberg said that “identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.” But somehow journalists have managed to be the purveyors of truth for centuries. By eliminating the humanity from the “trending stories” sections, Facebook opened itself up to the fake news problem. I recommend that Facebook boost news from established sources instead of only promoting popular, viral, unverified headlines.
Following the election, Facebook announced it would ban fake news in the advertising network. This will hit the fake news sites that generate revenue running advertisements, but this won’t prevent them from popping up in your newsfeed, shared by a well-meaning neighbor.
Fight fake news
• Double-check your sources: I know, it’s so tempting to click the ‘share’ button after reading an especially titillating headline. However, the URL at the bottom of the post can be especially telling. If it is from a source you’ve never heard of, it’s worth double-checking. You can cross-reference a Google doc of outlets spreading fake news created by Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, or just Google if the publication is reliable.
• Report false stories: Report the story on Facebook if it turns out to be false. Helping to prevent the story from spreading will help to keep it from going viral. Facebook does not share who reports fake news, so the process is anonymous.
• Correct inaccuracies: If you fell for the trap of spreading fake news, make sure to publicly denounce it. On Facebook, edit your original post admitting your mistake, so others don’t fall prey to the same grabby headline. On Twitter, RT your original post with a quote, debunking the site for all. Or simply delete the post from your page.
• Buy a print or digital newspaper subscription. Legacy news outlets have trained reporters who work hard to get correct, timely and unbiased information out. Newspapers saw a bump in subscriptions following the election, and it’s a trend I hope to see continue.
David Chavern contributes to News Media Alliance, formerly known as Newspaper Association of America.