04.12.2017 | Christie Melby
Fake news has been a hot topic since the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election and for good reason. On Facebook, fake election-related news stories generated more user engagement than top stories from credible news publications, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis.
Following the election, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg released a statement, reiterating Facebook’s goal to give “every person a voice” while also explaining, “we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news.” As Zuckerberg’s statement promised, Facebook did continue to evolve its News Feed platform and recently launched a two-pronged approach to combat fake news on its social network.
In a blog post announcing the tool, Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Vice President of News Feed, wrote that Facebook has been focusing on three key areas with these changes:
- “Disrupting economic incentives because most false news is financially motivated;
- building new products to curb the spread of false news; and
- helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.”
The first element of Facebook’s effort is centered on education, which is critical. As mentioned in a recent post on Communiqué PR’s blog, a Stanford University study found that 82 percent of middle schoolers were unable to distinguish “sponsored content” from a legitimate source.
“To help people spot false news,” Facebook introduced an educational tool at the top of users’ News Feeds. It lists the following items to consider when reviewing a news story:
1. Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
2. Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site and compare the URL to established sources.
3. Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust and with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their “About” section to learn more.
4. Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.
5. Consider the photos. False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.
6. Inspect the dates. False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.
7. Check the evidence. Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.
8. Look at other reports. If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.
9. Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.
10. Some stories are intentionally false. Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.
The second part of the strategy to minimize the spread of fake news is providing a simple way for users to report fake news. In the upper right hand corner of a Facebook post, there is a drop down arrow. When users click on this arrow, the list of options now includes the ability to report the post as fake news.
As the way we consume and share news and information online evolves, we as informed citizens have a responsibility to understand how to identify fake news and prevent it from spreading. As PR professionals, we have an additional responsibility to help established news sources maintain their reputation as credible news sources.