With the boom in social networks and the immediacy of information, it is increasingly common to fall victim to “Fake News”. But don’t feel bad, it happens to us all – even the mainstream media.
Some people have transcended borders and gained worldwide fame thanks to Fake News. Tomaso De Benedetti, an Italian journalist known for his unparalleled interviews with the highest-profile personalities, was found out when another editor at his newspaper interviewed the American author Philip Roth. The journalist asked him about statements from an interview with De Benedetti, which the writer claimed he had never said.
From the imagination of the Italian “journalist” came interviews with great figures such as Mario Vargas Llosa and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev – even Pope Francis took a few minutes to speak with him. What’s most alarming is not that he believed his own lies, but that the rest of the world went along with them too.
“The dangerous thing about the internet is that someone like De Benedetti can publish information without any oversight, despite having been outed as a fraud. One of his favorite habits was to announce the death of celebrities on Twitter. Fake news is a business. For this reason, fake stories use ever more striking headlines: this way they are shared more over social networks and generate more income for their creators. The downside is that the more fake news is shared, the likelier it is that the media will accept it as true,” noted the La Vanguardia newspaper.
The international Global Disinformation Index (GDI) NGO, which monitors the phenomenon of “fake news” around the world, highlights in a report that disinformation sites generate profits of approximately 235 million dollars per year via online advertising.
Like any website, fake news platforms need funds to survive, which they raise through advertising. But for brands and companies, who pay for visibility on the network, it is impossible to keep tabs on each and every one of their advertising spaces.
Behind each video, gif, image, Twitter threat, biased story or ‘fake news’ site, there are groups of experts in metrics, advertisers, political scientists, journalists and other professionals creating strategies – empirical or methodological – to ‘sow’ information on social networks.
Facebook algorithms and Twitter policies have no effect. Everything can be circumvented. ‘Sowing’ false information and news has been turned into a subtle art form by armies of bots.
Currently you can find fake news of any kind and on any topic, ranging from the political, cultural and entertainment spheres to more sensitive subjects such as health, including the recent health emergency prompted by COVID-19.
That’s why we’re here to offer offer you 5 tips to avoid falling for “Fake News”, at least some of the time:
- Check where the information comes from. Although mainstream media outlets sometimes fall for fake news, they are more likely to have a rigorous verification process. So we recommend always making sure that you are visiting a serious and highly experienced platform.
- Check the information on more than two media. Even if the primary medium has great experience and you know that it is almost never wrong, if it contains information whose veracity you doubt for some reason, double-check it on more than two additional media, including media from other countries, to be completely sure.
- Avoid sharing news which you are not 100% sure about – doing so might encourage your closest circle to fall into the “fake news” trap, because they trust you and will not hesitate to share the information, leading to a huge snowball effect.
- Use Google Scholar as a tool. A Google search engine focused on the search for content and scientific-academic bibliography, the site indexes publishers, libraries, repositories, bibliographic databases, among others; and among its results you can find citations, links to books, articles from scientific journals, communications and conferences, scientific-technical reports, theses, dissertations and files deposited in repositories.
- Have you received an image that tells a story? You can carry out a “reverse” image search to see if other sites have reproduced it. Save the photo to your computer and upload it to Google Images or the Reverse.Photos tool.
According to the BBC, a study published in March by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) researchers suggests that fake news tends to inspire surprise and rejection, while true news inspires anxiety and sadness. Analysts noted that the more surprising a story is, the more people are willing to share it. So take great care, and share this guide so that more people can avoid being fooled.