You’d have to be living in a very deep hole or under an enormous rock if you haven’t heard about the rise of Fake News.  Considering that election recently held in some county in the North Americas – yes, I’m talking about the USA.  There has been a lot of discussion about fake news recently and how it may have had a big impact on the recent American election results.  If there is one lesson a small business owner can take away from the 2016 Presidential Election, it would have to be, you should always be wary when searching for answers on the internet.

So, what is fake news exactly?

There seems to be a bit of confusion about what Fake News is. Most definitions talk about Comedy News shows such as “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central from the USA or Australian Broadcast Corporation’s “Mad as Hell”.  Some definitions will include online satire sites like “The Onion”, “ABCNEWS23” and The Beetoota Advocate”.  However, considering recent political activities, these definitions are not enough.  They don’t cover the seemly new practice of generating falsehoods and perpetrating it as news.

Yes. You read that correctly. There are people out there who are going out of their way to masquerade falsehoods as facts.

Why are they doing this? Well, mainly it’s because there is money in BULLS*%T.  There are teens from a  small village in Macedonia who are making a tidy sum though revenue generated via Google’s AdSence. Then there is Paul Horner, who has been making a living over the last several years from living off online hoaxes. The US Presidential Election has been a gold mine for him. Both examples highlight there is an organised effort to make a profit by disseminating false information.

Then, there is other type of Fake News generator. Your average bloke (or lady) who reports something on social media (either knowingly or not knowingly). It then goes viral. Before too long the story ends up in the main stream news.  The New York Times has a very good article about how this happens.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, It just goes to show you that there is so much information online which looks like genuine news but isn’t. It may come in the form of:

  • Comedy or Satire
  • Someone adding 2 and 2 and getting 4.5
  • Opinion piece dressed up fact.
  • Someone telling porkies (lies) for money

Just the tip of the iceberg

Fake news isn’t a new phenomenon. However what does seem to be new about it, is how quickly it can escalate and penetrate a wide audience. I blame the internet.

However, false information on the internet is as old as the internet itself. Online researchers and those in the Library Sciences have been aware of this for a very long time. They will tell you that to find out if a piece of information is true or not, you must determine if it is credible or not.

As I have said elsewhere, “To determine online credibility, one just needs to work out if that online resource is believable or worthy of trust. This is not as simple as it sounds and academics have been trying to work this one out for a very long time.”

If you’d like to know more about online credibility there is a good summary about it here.

So, what can be done about it?

FactCheck.Org have an excellent article on how to spot fake news. In this article, they warn us to:

  • Consider the source: Does the Url look odd? Check out the “About Page”, does it say if it’s a fantasy news site (or similar)?
  • Read beyond the headline: A good headline can pull at your heart strings and before you can say this is fake, you’ve posted it on to Facebook or Twitter, etc. Stop and think before you re-post. Read past the headline is it satire, is it poppy@*^K?
  • Check the author: Do a bit of research on the Author, google the name, do a picture search on the Bio Picture. Are there discrepancies?
  • Determine the support? Does the story cite a source? If so, how easy can it be traced. Hint: if you can’t easily find the source on Google, it probably doesn’t exist. If there is a link to the source, check it and find out where its information is coming from.
  • Check the date: Sometimes a news story isn’t completely fake, the dates may have been changed to make it relevant, or someone is posting an old story.
  • Ask if this is “some kind of joke”: Satire is real and it can sometimes be very hard to tell it from the real thing.
  • Consult the experts: Debunking can take time but there are sites out there which do check these sorts of things. (factcheck.org and Snopes.com just to name two)
  • Check your biases: This can be a very hard thing to do, but if you do feel strongly about a story which comes up on your news-feed, take some time to consider it before you post it.

Not surprisingly this can be used for determining other information sources as well. FactCheck.org’s considerations are very similar to the Seven Questions I like ask when I conduct online research. These are:

  1. How old is the information?
  2. Who is the author and are they an expert?
  3. Does the author have an agenda?
  4. What type of information is it (news-article, opinion piece, scholarly article)?
  5. Who is the publisher and do they have an agenda?
  6. Does the article have links or references to other articles in order to back up the Authors claims?
  7. THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE – Is the only reason I like this article is because it backs up my own personal feelings about the subject?

You can read more about these 7 questions here.

But wait there is more.

I have developed a Fake News and online credibility Check sheet which I give to small business owners for free. Well I will add you to my mailing list, but you won’t be out of pocket.

If you’d like a copy please email me here.

Online Research Matters

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