Fake News Lah

by Ines Wynn


Donald Trump mendaciously claims he coined the expression ‘fake news’. Actually the term has been in use since the 1890s by the American press and is not a new concept. But with all the wolf cries about fake news since the advent of the Donald on the political scene, the expression has gone viral, expressly so because the POTUS himself partakes in fake news, either as a giver or a taker.

 

What is fake news and how do you recognize it?   Wikipedia terms fake news a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. The intent of fake news is to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially. Simply put, it is news that is wrong, out of context, exaggerated, not verifiable.

Fake news is the sibling of the gutter press of days past and present, an entity that thrives on sensational titles, overblown claims and over-sentimentalised stories. The phenomenon of fake news seems to proliferate in the areas of politics, health, the environment and natural disasters, celebrities and ‘high’ society, and the realm of conspiracy theories. It’s a rich domain that perks up the interests of a broad and diversified audience. There are well-known purveyors of fake news like Liberty Writers News, Last Line of Defense, Breitbart, Infowars, Fox News and like ilk. Then there are also the spoof-news websites like The Onion and the Australian Betoota Advocate whose content is mainly satirical and publish totally made-up news. They do it for fun, to entertain, attract attention and to be the voice of disenchantment with mainstream media.

You also need to beware of fake news items spread by gullible friends and relatives. Remember that fake news spreads lightningly fast on social media posted by ordinary people. A recent example of that are people who comment on the threatening eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung by posting a picture of Sumatra’s Mount Sinabung or other volcano in full eruption without specifically identifying the difference.

Examine the motivations of people spreading fake news: it could be to advance their political or ideological cause; out of malice to sully the reputation of a person, public figure or group. It could be for money as sensationalist content can engender clicks to add revenue to the poster’s site. It could also be due to seek attention or that feeling of importance, of having an impact. Then there are the pranksters who thrive on tasteless jokes and the nitwits who blithely pass on juicy news without examining the source.

Why do readers get roped into believing these claims? Maybe they hope the information brings a solution to a problem they have, or it gives solace and comfort, or enforces their belief system. President Obama, in a December 27th 2017 BBC Radio interview with Prince Harry who is guest editor for the “Today” program, summed it up very nicely when he said that one of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.

 

How to spot fake news stories:

  • Beware of posts and photos that cause an immediate emotional reaction, especially if provocative. Beware sensationalised or outrageous claims like ‘Lemon Juice is the Ultimate Cancer Cure’. Take conspiracy theories with a mountain of salt. Explore the claims with a critical sense and check reliable sources.
  • Read the whole text, not just the title. Beware the come-ons and the bait and switch techniques to draw you in. Be suspicious if the posts looks dubious or questionable, over-hyped or contains unverified or unverifiable claims. Grammatical errors are a dead give-away, not just in the spam emails from Nigerian royalty.
  • Identify the author: is it a well-known journalist or a press agency like Associated Press, Reuters, etc.? A reputable academic or NGO entity? A government agency without an axe to grind? Are mainstream media including it?
  • Google all claims; check those sources and facts; find proof in recorded speeches, official statistics, published research or white papers. Check cited sources, people or publications: are they direct quotes, second or third hand? Quotes, if legit, can be tracked back to an actual event or statement.
  • Look at the URL. A legitimate website like abcnews.com can be usurped by a fake news website and renamed like abcnews.com.co. Anything that ends with a suffix other than com, net or org should be approached with caution.
  • Remember that syndicated news sites and opinion websites are almost always slanted.
  • As for photos, check the URL in Google Images to see where the image originates from and where else it has been used. Remember that programs like Photoshop are a favorite of online fake news purveyors.

 

Consult legitimate checking tools. There are authorities on fake news and entire websites who make it their business to expose the interlopers. You can consult fact checking sites of major media or independent, non-partisan sites:

For an in-depth discussion on this and related topics you can read Daniel J. Levitin’s very insightful book entitled Weaponized Lies: Critical Thinking in the Post-Truth Era, available on Amazon.

If some of your dear friends or family members get carried away with spreading what you consider fake news, you can gently challenge them about their back-up facts. A lot of times you will find they have posted a news item impulsively, without verifying the truth of the claim. As for the Mount Agung situation in Bali, do take all those breathless posts and comments with a grain of salt and go directly to the horse’s mouth. The legitimate source for this is the National Disaster Management Agency who posts very lucid and objective updates.

 

Always go the source…

 

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