If you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention, (and we know that you have, you newshounds, you) you know about the problem with fake news. It’s everywhere, with its salacious headlines and promises of shock and sensation. And now the entire nation is abuzz about fake news, as if it’s suddenly come into being. But fake news has been a thing for a long time. Think: The National Enquirer. Nobody ever really worried about it. But thanks to our beloved and ubiquitous social media networks, this election season proved that fake news can have real life ramifications, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. So the new challenge for journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students? Learning to recognize the fake news, analyze sources, and continue to promote journalistic integrity. It’s a tall order, taller than it has been in the past. Let us get you started:
What it is:
There’s the blatant stuff: totally fabricated, usually hosted by websites with credible-sounding names, and ones that don’t identify themselves as satirical. There’s clickbait: sensational headlines with lots of caps and punctuation and shocking or appealing photos, because you just have to know what caused that horrifying skin condition, right? Right?? But when you get there the content has nothing to do with the photo. And then there’s the sneaky stuff: half truths, misleading stories, speculations and “satire”, all shared online over and over again. For an illuminating take on how these stories go viral, consider this timeline of a speculative tweet that went viral, sparking a widely shared conspiracy theory right before the election.
How to recognize it:
Again, some of it’s obvious, some of it’s not. The important thing is to continue doing your due diligence, checking out sources, and consuming news with a critical eyes. But if you’re into lists, here’s one that delineates the hallmarks of news fakery.
How it spreads:
This one’s easy: social media. We’re uber connected right now, and we love to share, because everyone you know should get to read that one article you read, right? But there’s a major lesson here: sharing isn’t caring, not when it comes to dubious news. Investigate before you share, and try not to engage in reckless liking.
What to do about it:
Investigate. Think. Be critical. Demand facts and don’t accept sensation. And practice. Jonathan Rogers from Iowa City High put together a lesson plan about fake news, it’s pretty cool, and it’s right here.