The Truth Behind Fake News


Lately, everyone’s been talking about fake news. From large media outlets all the way to our social feeds, it seems fake news is almost inescapable.

How can something like this escalate throughout the world with such force? Where did the rise of fake news even come from in this digital age?

What is Fake News?

Fake news is generated content that has no ties to the truth. These insidious bits of forgery contain made up facts that horrify, confuse, and delight readers enough to pass along. What’s worse is that anyone with functioning typing skills can contribute their fraudulent posts to the internet.

Where Did it Come From?

Unfortunately, fake news has been around a long time and is here to stay.

“I will add,” Jefferson continued in 1807, “that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1807

The 19th century saw a boom in fake news stories that spread like wildfire, just like today. This was caused by a lack of journalistic standards on what should be shown to viewers, as well as a need to sell papers and make money. There weren’t any hard lines to distinguish between opinion, reporting, and fiction. Fortunately, this all changed towards the 20th century when journalistic norms and quality reporting took over. More importantly, the digital age has made it much easier to distinguish real and fake sources, as well as easier and faster ways to fact check everything.

A Fresh Perspective

Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News discussed fake news with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air. During this interview, Silverman discussed two main factors that contribute to the rise of fake news: the platform and the algorithmic factor.

“We love to hear things that confirm what we think and what we feel and what we already believe. It’s – it makes us feel good to get information that aligns with what we already believe or what we want to hear,” he said. (Source: NPR)

When we hear or read anything that disagrees with our core beliefs, some may take a step back to try and understand this alternative perspective. Others may seek an outlet to explain why their thoughts or ideas are right above all others. A lot of this has to do with emotion, whether it’s anger or happiness, and having the ability to be anonymous or share our thoughts with similar minded people.

Where Does the Algorithm Fit In?

As Silverman mentioned, “…the more you interact with certain types of content, the more its algorithms are going to feed you more of that content.

“So that’s why the false misleading stuff does really well is because it’s highly emotion-driven. It tells people exactly what they want to hear. It makes them feel very comforted and it gets them to react on the platform. And the platform sees that content does really well and Facebook feeds more of it to more people.” (Source: NPR)

How Can You Differentiate Fake News from Real News?

Since fake news usually masks itself as a real news organization to looks sophisticated and legitimate, readers find it difficult to tell the difference. On the bright side, there are a few ways to tell:

  • Consider the source of information.

  • Don’t just read the headlines.

  • Investigate the author.

  • Check citations.

  • Look at the date of the article.

  • Is it a joke or satire?.

  • Check in with the experts like Snopes, Politifact, and FactCheck.
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