You can’t just fake this stuff up…

"Just because you see something on the Internet with a quote, a picture and a date, it doesn't mean it's going to be true." - Abraham Lincoln, 2006
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You can’t just fake this stuff up… Or can you?

Many have read and likely enjoyed, like me, the satirical talents of the writers at The Onion, a mock news website that comments on everyday happenings. But this year a number of mock journalists generating content for fake news websites are capturing attention now because of their alleged influence on voting in the U.S. presidential election held earlier this month.

An admitted fake news writer, who identifies himself as Paul Horner, says he might just be responsible for helping elect Donald Trump as president. He says throughout the U.S. presidential election season he has written and seen disseminated his fabricated news articles. For one, Donald Trump’s son, Eric, and a Trump campaign official tweeted a link to his fake news article that claimed opposition protestors were paid $3,500 to appear at Trump rallies. Horner says that he has operated several faux-news sites for years and makes a living through ad placements on this fake websites.

Another pseudo-journalist, Paris Wade, residing in Long Beach, California says he receives $13 to $14 per 1,000 views on his Facebook mock news site because of ads. He noted, however, that Facebook has sometimes flagged his articles as spam and can subsequently block them.

This is where Facebook and Google take center stage in the controversy.

Two days after election day, Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg promptly addressed but initially dismissed concerns about the influence of “fake news” on presidential balloting as a “pretty crazy idea”. Two day later, Zuckerberg claimed that 99% of news content on Facebook is “authentic”. Yet, less than a week later, Zuckerberg has announced plans to fight the dissemination of fake news on Facebook, noting that the company takes the matter seriously and is considering seven ways for addressing the issue, including warning labels, easier to use reporting tools, and implementation of a third-party verification process. Facebook also modified its Facebook Audience Network policies in terms of ad placements on Facebook pages in response to critics.

Google, which was also cited for failing to control fake news websites announced, on November 14, that it would not allow Google ads (i.e. via its AdSense service) to be placed on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about you, your content or the primary purpose of your web property.” Yet Google managed to avoid much of the negative attention Facebook received when the controversy first broke because it quickly acknowledged there was a problem. Google also promised to fund fact-checking projects dedicating to fixing the problem of fake news online.

Did fake news influence voters in the 2016 presidential election? That determination is yet to be made but one can see how fake news sites can attract the unsuspecting public.

A list of 133 “fake, false, or regularly misleading websites” has been published by Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Among the intentionally misleading website names are those that seem to mirror ABC News (#10), and NBC News (#77). You might see others that seemingly parrot news organizations you recognize. (Note: A disclaimer that accompanies the list includes a ranking of deceptiveness in parenthesis for many of the websites, and states that not every website can be termed deceptive all of the time.)

Care to try your hand at spotting a fake U.S. presidential election news headline?
Cast your vote for “True” or “False” in this short, 10-question quiz.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “You can’t just fake this stuff up…

  1. I use Facebook and I am often disturbed at the amount of fake news that I see on my news feed. What bothers me more is how many people comment on it and actually believe it without checking reliable sources. Though I do think Facebook is at fault for this, I think individuals should do a little research and know trustworthy sources instead of taking everything they see as facts.

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  2. I clicked on the link at the end of your post. I am very disappointed in myself that I got two wrong answers. Facebook and Google are only partly to blame for voters believing everything they read. Some voters could be lazy and not want to check other sources. One of my favorite comments from a Trump voter was that they could not wait until Trump abolished income tax. The voter should know that our taxes build our roads and other infrastructure.

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  3. Steven, This is such a hot topic right now, and happens to be a huge part of my thesis research. Facebook has implemented flagging and warning features to prevent the spread of these false news stories. However, Facebook’s warning label is very small, light grey and barely noticeable. On top of it, it requires a certain amount of flagging by users for the message to even appear. This leads to a large amount of initial spreading, and would require for users to have high credibility intelligence to report the story in the first place. Definitely a mess of an issue that needs worked on!

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  4. Fake news stories, wow. Are we really at a point where people are making a living (or at least a decent supplemental income) by writing fake news articles and passing them off as authentic? Do you have respect for these people? I find it tough to respect people who intentionally try to deceive the public. It is one thing to post a silly story, but include a disclaimer that it is fake and false, and just for fun; it is something entirely different to post an article that is complete fiction, and pass it off as fact. I feel like this is similar to those frauds out there who claim that you can “work from home and make $2,000 a week”. You have people out there who take these kinds of things seriously, and then get burned for it. It is no wonder that so many people still have fears and worries about trusting information online.

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