Don’t Believe the Hype: Fake News and How It Fooled Us
Don't believe the hype! Fake news is on the rise, but how many of us have fallen for it? In this guest post, social media specialist Eve Young explores what's got us so gullible.
According to a recent poll, 75% of people believe the fake news they see.
So what counts as fake news?
Contrary to popular belief, fake news isn't all about spoof articles. It refers to any online content that contains half-truths, exaggerated facts, or statements which have been recycled without being fact-checked first.
For instance, how do you know the statistic above is true? Are you going to Google it and make sure? Probably not. Realistically, you're just going to keep reading and allow what I’ve said to influence you. After all, I'm writing on a respected platform... would I lie to you?
The thing is, disinformation isn’t always easy to spot; what I’ve stated above is partially true, but I’ve failed to include the fact that this poll ran in America only, and just to ease your mind, here's the proof.
By failing to state the whole truth, I've left it open to interpretation. You could go on to re-post it, believing that it applies to people worldwide, or people in the UK. Then someone else with their own interpretation reads it and passes it on… you see where this is going.
Although the fake news phenomenon has been gaining traction for a while, it never held my interest because until recently, I was sure that I could tell fiction from fact.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when a friend of mine shared a story on Facebook, that I questioned my own gullibility; she’s an intelligent girl who works in PR, yet she was so quick to hit the share button on something completely false.
So, I did a little digging and - you guessed it - I too had bought into fake news, and chances are, so have you. With all not as it seemed, it made me wonder - why are we so easily fooled?
Anyone can read an article on The Onion and see that it’s fake (hopefully), but what happens when you’re reading the blog of an influencer you trust, or you see a post with millions of likes and shares?
When ‘news’ comes to us like this, we believe it in the same way that we believe a friend or parent when they tell us something.
49% of Twitter users said they rely on influencers for recommendations, but online influencers have an effect on more than just buying decisions - what if these users are also trusting influencers' commentary on political and social issues as much as they are with outfit choices?
We should know better when it comes to which sources to trust and which to be skeptical of, but when the lines of media are increasingly blurred through the rise of bloggers and celebrities who have been emboldened by social media, it’s not so simple.
Suddenly, even reputable publisher names are at risk of sourcing research spawned from a piece of viral content, and their journalists probably form many of their opinions from what they’ve read on Twitter that week, which leads me to my next point:
If fake news is a bacteria, then social media is its warm, wet breeding ground.
This kind of information spreads quickly on social - to the point where we accept it as legitimate without a second thought. Not because it's been checked or published by an accredited publication, but because of how many shares it has.
As a society increasingly built on likes, we take viral content seriously; the amount of engagement on a post suddenly equates to authority. The spreading of fake news is also not helped by the ‘echo chamber’, i.e. the effect that an enclosed system such as social media has on us.
Say someone in your network reads fake news, forms an opinion around what they’ve read, and then proceeds to Tweet about it. You trust them, so you’re going to believe what they’re tweeting about - maybe you’ll even RT or show it to a friend.
Now, what if they're an influencer and their Tweets go viral? All of a sudden, you've got thousands of people believing the hype, and without realising it, the fake news spreads even further.
Algorithms also play a huge part; they recycle this content and push us to engage, and the more engagement a post gets, the longer it stays on our feeds.
It disturbs me that many of us were probably influenced by fake news on important matters like the EU Referendum, or the Presidential Election last year.
Alex Krasodomski-Jones, who carried out a study on the social media echo chamber effect, told Sky News:
"The existence of echo chambers and the idea that we are increasingly seeing things that we agree with, things that we like, things that we might buy, challenges some of the fundamental principles democracy thrives on.”
A prime example of unclear fake news is this image:
It went viral and continued to circulate social media around the time of the Election. Me and my friends all liked it, shared it and showed it to each other with a "can you believe this?", when we should have been asking "do you think this is real?"
It is in fact fake, but with the amount of engagement it received and attention it attracted, no one was any the wiser until several news outlets debunked it. Even a little while after that, I still believed it was real because said debunking hadn’t been shared across social, but the original image continued to be pushed in front of me by those pesky algorithms.
With Gen Z beginning to come of age to vote, and being the most social media influenced generation yet, it's important that we find a way to cut through the noise, but how?
Facebook has received an abundance of criticism for the part it plays in the spreading of fake news, and after a lot of pressure they recently rolled out a guide of ‘Tips to Spot False News’ along with a press release:
“We cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves–It’s not feasible given our scale and it’s not our role. Instead, we’re working on better ways to hear from our community and work with third parties to identify false news and prevent it from spreading on our platform.”
The problem is, without a complete overhaul of their existing algorithms, the situation isn’t likely to improve. Realistically how many of us are going to go out of our way to read this guide? On platforms tailored to our convenience, the only way to combat fake news is to tailor the platform accordingly.
There’s a certain irony in Facebook warning us not to believe what it’s chosen to show us; its algorithms produce content that we’re meant to engage with, and when that includes fake news, that’s when it starts to get tricky.
Unfortunately the reality is that Facebook is unlikely to change these algorithms and risk losing money through advertising, just for the sake of some misleading headlines.
It looks like for now, it will be up to the individual to branch out and educate themselves outside of social media, and learn to be a little bit more skeptical.
Only time will tell if it proves effective, but for now - stay vigilant!
Check out more from Eve Twitter @evelilyyoung
Social Media Specialist