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Fake news is factually incorrect disinformation, which has been made to resemble legitimate news. The purpose of fake news can be spreading rumors, creating tension and distrust, disrupting political process and controlling public opinion.

Fake news articles have typically very catchy, even sensational headlines. The headlines and the content are meant to be appealing to emotions and beliefs, so that people share them. This is especially effective when celebrities and politicians and other profiles with large follower base share fake news. Fake news is often politically biased, and some is intended to be satire.

After fake news have been spread it enters public consciousness. Once this happens fake news can be hard to refute. Fake news articles can be used as source material, even if the information was false.

Why spread fake news?

Fake news is spread by parties which want to either strengthen their own position, weaken their adversaries, or both. Although a somewhat recent term, fake news has been around as long as rumors have. Especially during the 20th century it became common to use propaganda to defame enemy or boost the morale of own troops.

The rise of social media created a perfect platform to spread news and also fake news. Anything can be spread around the world instantly from anywhere. Because of that, fake news can also be used by foreign actors to disrupt public conversation, create tension between groups and even affect elections within another country. Many governments allegedly have state-run or sponsored units that spread fake news both internally and externally.

Post-truth era

One of the most severe effect of fake news is that it has damaged the credibility of news sources. Anything can be dismissed as fake news. This way it has become harder for many to recognize what is actually true and what is not. Actual fake news can at times be presented as true. Similarly, legitimate news can be dismissed as fake news based on the views of an individual. In many cases the truth has become less important as beliefs and opinions are supported and boosted with fake news.

Because of this it has been said that we are now living a post-truth era. Sometimes facts and expert analysis bear less significance in political discussion than opinions, beliefs and feelings do. Fake news and post-truth politics have been strongly linked to for example current politics in the USA and UK. Of course, these accusations have then been accused of being fake news.

How to spot fake news

Spotting fake news can be tricky at times because fake news articles are intentionally made to look like actual news. There are some signs one can look for if they feel they might be facing fake news.

Fake news is intended to be spread as far and as fast as possible. That’s why they are intended to appeal to feelings with sensational headlines. Unfortunately, many other actors in the media field are also using catchy and sensational headlines known as clickbaits. However, if the headline sounds outrageous, one should be wary of the legitimacy of the content and search for other possible signs of legitimacy.

The content is another warning sign. If it’s filled with typos and rude language, or is attacking very directly at something or someone, it’s probably not posted by any legitimate news source. And 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 of the news. Fake news is often spread by bots and fake accounts, but they are also spread by real profiles and unknowing readers which makes it harder to spot. Investigating the legitimacy of any website or profile can be cumbersome and tricky. It also doesn’t go well with the hectic nature of social media. Regardless, source criticism is especially important with fake news.

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.

Luciano Hernández

10.12.19 3 min. read

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