Fake News Is More Than Just Facebook's Problem — It's Our Problem, Too. Tips for Telling Truth From Fiction.

Yes, Facebook has a problem with fake news. It needs to do crack down on that. But the bigger problem may be the way its users, and that means just about all of us, tend to believe what we want to hear, and share headlines that confirm our biases with our friends. We do so without stopping to ask ourselves whether they are true. Whether we trust the site we are reading. Whether that site, in fact, is even trying to get the news right. They often aren't. These fake news sites have proliferated across Facebook, which has created a multi-billion-dollar ecosystem that that allows them to thrive. That's why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg needs to take seriously complaints that his company has helped spread disinformation at an alarming rate.But it's worth noting that this same ecosystem has for years dominated the web, where marketers, publishers and many others, from massive companies to solo bloggers, have learned that one way to lure readers is to play to their emotions, confirm their biases, or to shock them.From cat videos to the classic bait-and-switch headlines that never live up to the content on the other side of the link, users of the Internet are confronted daily with content aimed to manipulate them. Why? Because on the Internet, the bigger the audience, the bigger the payoff. But this election saw this trend accelerate -- and alarmingly. No longer are bad actors on the web content with manipulative headlines. Now they've learned that they can build bigger and bigger audiences if they just make up stories that so outrage or excite audiences that readers don't even bother to ask whether they are true.A BuzzFeed News analysis determined that during the final three months of the presidential campaign the top 20 fake stories -- stories that were not just wrong, but made up -- outperformed the top 20 true stories generated by traditional media.By fake, we mean stories published by obscure sites -- often newly created, with hidden or hazy ownership -- that appear to be created solely to generate revenue by publishing the wildest possible falsehoods. That's how so many of us ended up seeing headlines declaring Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump. He never did, of course, but its authors didn't care. A site called The Political Insider ran this screaming headline to great results. Nearly 800,000 Facebook users liked, commented or shared the story after reading "Wikileaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS -- Then Drops Another Bombshell." Not true, of course. Also exploding online? A piece by the cleverly named Denver Guardian headlined "FBI Agent Suspect in Hillary mail Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder Suicide." Again, totally false.It wasn't just fake news sites, either. Sometimes hyper-partisan political groups created Facebook pages directly, and then spread false and misleading stories regularly. Most of the fake stories favored Donald Trump or savaged Clinton, but the left also got in on the game, just not as frequently. What both sides had in common is that knew that enough readers wanted so badly to believe a headline like that that they'd share without another thought.That puts the problem on Facebook's shoulders, and on ours.Social media users should recognize that their own credibility -- with their friends, colleagues and others in their networks -- is on the line when they share stories created only to dupe them.For his part, Zuckerberg must recognize that he's created the ecosystem where falsehood flows so freely. Last week, his company and Google each announced new rules limiting fake news sites' ability to advertise. That's a start.Meanwhile, the most reliable check will come from users who ask themselves whether they trust the site they are about to recommend to friends before they hit the share button.  Continue reading...

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