Fixing fake news is on all of us

Like so much in life, it’s easier to believe ‒ and click on ‒ what fits our own worldview. Here are some tips on identifying less credible news stories that flit across your news feed.

Andrea Poole

Andie Poole is a senior account executive at Martin Waymire, a Lansing-based public relations and marketing firm. Bridge Magazine is a client of the firm.

It’s been almost a year since Facebook and Google admitted they had a problem with fake news. It’s a problem that won’t go away and seems to rear its ugly head at the worst moments.

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, ABC News reported that Facebook’s “Crisis Response” for the shooting had featured a false article misidentifying the gunman and stating he was a “far left loon.” Google had similar problems. In its “Top Stories” results, Google promoted a story from the anonymous prankster site 4chan.

Both companies rushed to address the issues by tweaking their algorithms. But even several days afterward, a Las Vegas conspiracy video was the eighth result in a search for information on the shooting on YouTube.

So, what’s going wrong? The biggest problem ‒ if we can face it ‒ is us. These complex algorithms and automated services tend to emphasize posts that best engage an audience, which is exactly what fake news is designed to do. The more we take the bait, the more we’re served this type of content.

In early October, Facebook began rolling out a test of a new “i” button on News Feed links that opens an informational panel about the news source. The goal is to give users better tools to help them understand if an article is from a publisher they trust as a way to evaluate if the story itself is credible.

Facebook is rolling out a test of a new button to give readers access to more information about news outlets.

The onus is on us to understand the context and evaluate a source. Like so much in life, it’s easier to just believe ‒ and click on ‒ what fits our own worldview.

The focus is better directed toward finding solutions ‒ and it’s clear it won’t be a simple fix. The New York Times recently reported that schools in Italy are teaming up with Facebook and Google to teach 8,000 high school students how to spot fake news. That initiative was to begin at the end of October. Is education the key to breaking confirmation bias tendencies within each of us?

What can you do?

Bridge Magazine published a story on Michigan’s political bubbles and how a conservative and two liberals tried to burst their own personal news bubbles by swapping news feeds for a week. While it didn’t go well in their case, hundreds of readers responded, wanting to try the same exercise. The participants learned a lot.

You can participate, too. Sign up for tips on how to burst your own news bubble and identify which news outlets to follow for the swap.

Some tips from Facebook

While Facebook still insists it’s a platform rather than a media company, the company says it is trying to address the prevalence of fake news in newsfeeds, even as members of Congress express skepticism about its commitment to the effort. Facebook provides 10 tips for how to spot false news in its help center. Here are three of them, as written on the company's website:

  1. Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
  2. Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.
  3. Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their “About” section to learn more.

You can learn more about the work the company says it is doing to stop the spread of false news here.

If you see a story in News Feed that you believe is false, you can report it to Facebook by clicking the three dots next to the post and following the prompts.

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Kevin Grand
Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:01pm

Ms. Poole is proceeding from a false assumption if she thinks that this will, in any way, solve the problem with fake news.

The biggest problem regarding fake news is the people who think that THEY know what kind of news we should be reading.

And just those few examples social media manipulation isn't the only problem. Simply put, most people do not trust the mainstream media any longer to honestly and accurately report to its audience.

The Las Vegas example she cited (the link no longer works, BTW) is a perfect example.

I remember watching the talking heads that morning literally ramble on for hours on end without providing us with any real hard facts. And even after the event, there are still a number of unanswered questions. I'm not going to wade into the tall grass with the more "interesting" aspects of this story, but more grounded problems with the overall reporting. What were the shooter's motivations? Why don't the time-lines sync up? What is the deal with Jesus Campos?

The mainstream media has gradually drifted from its core functions (the five W's) and decided to twist its coverage to fit its own agenda.

Most people recognize that, which is why they have lost the trust they once enjoyed.

Even it is ceased doing that right here and now, the damage has already been done. The fake news label they have earned is here to stay.

Jim tomlinson
Mon, 11/06/2017 - 1:07pm

Nonsense. Mainstream press are trained journalists and mainstream editors require multiple sources , if its rumor its prefaced as such. The notion that mainstream press can’t be trusted is fake news. Also opinion and lying is easy to recognize or verified.

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 9:16pm

Ms. Poole, thank you for the article we each can use some basic ideas of how to consider what we will be using each day. I would extend the considerations not limiting it to what is posted on the internet, such as on Facebook,/Google/Twitter, but include long established to formal reporting organizations. It seems the political agendas have become more open in the long standing news organizations.
I would add to what we can do;
Ask yourself: do I consider what the news means to me or why will you react in such a way?
Does the news say what I want to hear, does it reinforce what I believe, then hesitate because you may not be skeptical enough.
Do I consider how my acceptance will promote the source's agenda, that doesn't disqualify it but is should make me skeptical.
Do I consider what was left out of what I read or heard, that can discredit all of what was said.
Edgar Allen Poe; “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” That may seem harsh, but when it comes to politics that has proven a good starting point for me.

The foundation of science is skepticism so be a 'scientist' what using what you read or hear.

Joel A. Levitt
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 5:52am

There is a simple remedy for the fake news problem -- one that doesn't endanger free speech and doesn’t involve possibly suspect government involvement.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are highly profitable firms. They can afford to run their own Snopes-like and FactCheck-like operations, adding their findings to each published advertisement and posted comment.

Barbara Jeanne
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 7:23am

There are clues to distinguish actual news from propaganda. The word choice, sentence structure, and tone of a piece is demonstrably different in both.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 7:51am

I believe fake news finds acceptance because so many Americans are gullible and lack critical thinking skills. Perhaps this deficiency needs to be addressed by our educational systems. Also, lies promoted by simple bias play a role. A conservative Army buddy of mine sent me a message that I showed him was false according to Snopes. A month later he sent it out a second time. I wrote him an email and said, "I thought I showed you this was erroneous." He replied, "You did, but I like what it says." And so it goes.

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 9:04am

Equally bad is what the so called trusted sources fail to report or what they intentionally leave out of their reporting.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 11:30am

There's a sucker born every minute. Nothing new here.