Throughout the past few months, fake news has become increasingly, and worryingly, prevalent in social media. From Facebook posts linked to news claiming a connection between presidential candidates and ISIS to Twitter posts saying the U.S. Army is taking a stand against Obama, fake news websites have effectively flooded the internet. Especially after last year’s election, many people questioned the impact that fake news had on the outcome.
Fake news comes in many forms, whether it is a social media post from an individual with little to no evidence, an article from a fake news site, or a satirical news piece that people share as something factual. According to Business Insider, in the three months leading up to the election, the number of engagements (likes, comments, etc.) on Facebook for the top 20 fake news stories was more than a million higher than that of the top 20 traditional news stories.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg maintains that the amount of fake news on the site is too small to play a significant role in the results of an event like the presidential election, the fact remains that fake news stories did gain a notable following on the site.
As a common source of fake news has been social media, the number of voters who see social media as their primary source of news is an important concern. According to a study by The Pew Research Center, about 38 percent of Americans get their news online. This statistic itself is not concerning, but paired with the findings that 84 percent are confident in their ability to recognize fake news and about 23 percent reported sharing fake news, even if they were not aware of it at the time, the large number of people who view social media as a news source becomes more problematic.
If people are unknowingly sharing fake news, how do they manage the effects of their post? Well, the fact is that they cannot.
In one case of viral fake news, Eric Tucker, co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Texas, saw some large buses downtown and tweeted “Anti-Trump protestors in Austin today are not as organic as they seem. Here are the busses they came in. #fakeprotests #trump2016 #austin” to his 40 followers.
While this act might seem relatively harmless, the tweet ended up garnering tens of thousands of engagements on social media, including a tweet from Trump himself referencing the buses. Many right-wing news sources also chose to cover the story in online articles, reaching an even broader audience. In comparison, Tucker’s tweet explaining that his story was fake got 142 engagements — only a fraction of the original scope, even without counting the reactions to references of the tweet by Trump and news media.
Again and again, examples have shown that the effects of fake news cannot be controlled once it has spread, even if the original source admits that it was false. From misinformed citizens to deliberately outrageous fake news websites, fake news is all over the internet. The reprecussions of fake news have grown, but the majority of people still feel that they are able to differentiate between real and fabricated news.
If we really view fake news as a problem, social media users, even those who believe that they can detect fake news, need to analyze the stories that they are seeing more thoroughly. Stories that aim to make readers extremely angry, for example. In addition, people using social media as a source of news cannot just look for the stories they want to hear. Fake news stories will often be debunked, but only after some time has passed, so it is important to revisit a story again to ensure its accuracy.