Fake news is factually incorrect disinformation, which has been made to resemble legitimate news. Fake news is used to spread rumors, create tension and distrust, disrupt political process and control public opinion. It is a good way to spread confusion and distrust towards media and institutions.
Fake news articles have very catchy and sensational headlines. The headlines and the content are meant to be appealing to emotions and beliefs. This makes people share them impulsively. It is especially effective when celebrities and politicians and other profiles with large follower base share disinformation.
After fake news have been spread, it enters public consciousness. Once this happens, fake news can be hard to refute. It can be used as source material, even if the information was false. It is often politically biased, and some is intended to be satire.
Who would spread fake news, and why?
Disinformation is spread by parties which want to either strengthen their own position, weaken their adversaries, or both. Although a somewhat recent term, misinformation has been around as long as rumors have. During the 20th century the use of propaganda became a tool of warfare.
The rise of social media created a perfect platform to spread fake news. Anything can be spread around the world instantly from anywhere. Because of that, disinformation can also be used by foreign actors as a weapon against other nations. Many governments allegedly have state-run or sponsored units that spread fake news both internally and externally.
Fake news has damaged the credibility of legit news sources. Anything can be dismissed as disinformation. This way it has become harder for many to tell what’s true and what’s not. Actual fake news can at times be presented as true. Similarly, legitimate news can be dismissed as false based on the views of an individual.
Because of this it has been said that we are now living a post-truth era. Facts and expert analysis don’t mean as much as opinions, beliefs and feelings do. Fake news and post-truth politics have been strongly linked to for example Brexit and US presidential elections.
To spot fake news, look for these signs
Spotting disinformation can be tricky because it is made to look like actual news. There are some signs you can look for if you to spot false information.
Disinformation is intended to be spread as far and as fast as possible. They are intended to appeal to feelings with sensational headlines. Unfortunately, many other actors in the media field are also using catchy headlines known as click baits. However, if the headline sounds outrageous, be wary of the content. Search for other possible signs of legitimacy.
The content is another warning sign. Legitimate news sources don’t use rude language, and they check spelling for typos. If the topic is not reported by any big media house, it’s reasonable to ask why not.
Another warning is if you can’t find any information about the publisher. It is important to question the source. Disinformation is often spread by bots and fake accounts. It is also spread by real profiles and unknowing readers, which makes it harder to spot. Investigating legitimacy can be cumbersome and tricky. It also doesn’t go well with the hectic nature of social media. Regardless, source criticism is especially important in the internet.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has published guidelines to recognize fake news. In a nutshell, if you encounter a sensational headline, check the authenticity of the article and the site it was posted on before deciding whether or not to share it.