What is "fake news"?
"Fake news" is not a new concept but the digital age has given it a new powerful platform to spread material to millions of users. Fake news is a cousin of "bad news", which ranges from subtle mainstream media bias to lazy writing and poor fact checking. Fake news is a more blatant iteration of this and is often spread for political purposes. Fake news appears as blogs or "news" sites that seem comparable to mainstream news sites. For the sake of discussion and broadening the purposes of this subreddit, we are also including memes, fake quotes, and other bad information that is spread online.
Who is involved with fake news?
Bad information is spread via a direct process along these lines:
Originators ---> High Level Spreaders ---> Low Level Spreaders
Originators are the individuals who actually create the fake content to spread. Often they are post-truth trolls or political propagandists. There is a gradient from isolated trolls who do it for its own sake to those who actually make a living off of it, as shown when the Washington Post interviewed an originator:
Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year.
A High Level Spreader is a larger operation (blog, popular facebook group, fake news website) that spreads the material to a large audience with very little effort. Generally an originator will also run a high level spreading operation at the same time, making it easier for them.
Finally, a Low Level Spreader is the consumer. These are the users who "consume" the fake material and then also spread it via "likes" and "shares".
Is fake news a partisan issue?
No! We'd all like to think that our "side" is consuming real information while fake news is a problem of the other side. But in reality this is a bipartisan issue that will require people to introspect a little and be more vigilant in how they consume media.
Hyperpartisan Facebook groups have been spreading misleading information at an alarming rate. While it seems to be a bigger issue on the right, it's a problem for everyone:
Hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News. The review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left also found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.
Our analysis of three hyperpartisan right-wing Facebook pages found that 38% of all posts were either a mixture of true and false or mostly false, compared to 19% of posts from three hyperpartisan left-wing pages that were either a mixture of true and false or mostly false. The right-wing pages are among the forces — perhaps as potent as the cable news shows that have gotten far more attention — that helped fuel the rise of Donald Trump.
As noted this isn't simply a right wing problem. To provide one example on the other side: A quote spread around online about Trump calling Republican voters "stupid" was used to hurt him among voters both in the primaries and the general elections. The issue? It's totally fake.
That viral meme your friends keep sharing of Donald Trump calling Republicans "the dumbest group of voters in the country" is not true. It's not a thing. Stop sharing it.
While Donald Trump has said some questionable things, he never said anything even resembling this quote:
"If I were to run, I'd run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they'd still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific."
The post says The Donald made the statement in a People Magazine interview in 1998. Except he didn't.
Can you provide a real world example of the fake news process?
On October 7th, 2016, Wikileaks began to publish the contents of the Podesta e-mails they were holding. Around this time there was a story spreading online that Hillary called Bernie supporters a "bucket of losers". This quote was found in a transcript of a Goldman Sachs speech and was supposedly referenced in one of the e-mails.
Infowars, via The American Mirror, published this material to their web site under the title "HILLARY CALLS HER OWN SUPPORTERS A BUCKET OF LOSERS".
Gateway Pundit also reproduced the story: Wikileaks: Hillary Clinton Calls Bernie Fans and Millennials “Bucket of Losers” in Goldman Sachs Speech
The story was also spread via the popular /r/the_donald subreddit getting multiple posts with hundreds and thousands of net upvotes. This example here shows it being posted and the mods deleted all the comments trying to notify people the story is fake (deleted comments are in red). The truth of the story was irrelevant.
The Originator of this story was a fake news outfit called "Real. True. News." posing as a legitimate source of information. Their story can be seen here. If you pay any attention to details you will notice immediately that the story is dated October 3, 2016, before the Podesta e-mails began to leak.
One could also go directly to the source (Wikileaks) to see. A search for "bucket of losers" in the Podesta e-mail database returns no results. If people are unwilling to do ten seconds of research then what else can be spread? If you're a fake news troll, the world is your oyster.
Can you provide an example of a spreader manipulating readers?
While some fake news stories are totally false, a lot of them start with a grain of truth. This example is also from the Podesta e-mails. Specifically this one written by Podesta himself:
I know she has begun to hate everyday Americans, but I think we should use it once the first time she says I'm running for president because you and everyday Americans need a champion. I think if she doesn't say it once, people will notice and say we false started in Iowa.
If you actually read the e-mail and understand its context you will know that they are referring to the term "everyday Americans" and not the people who make up the group designated as "everyday Americans".
Do you think that's what the politically motivated fake news spreaders want you to think? The usual suspects went to work:
Infowars: WIKILEAKS BOMBSHELL: HILLARY CLINTON ‘HATES EVERYDAY AMERICANS’, written by Paul Joseph Watson, who had to later take down the article in shame. But he already got his message out, right?
I will focus in on the Infowars article to show further how readers are manipulated. Most readers have short attention spans so they do not read entire articles. That's why it's so important for writers to know that they need to either 1) make an impression early to keep the reader interested or 2) emphasis what you want at the top.
The (now removed) Infowars story bolds their summary at the very top and doesn't quote the statement in its proper context:
New Wikileaks emails released just moments ago include a shocking admission by Clinton campaign manager John Podesta that Hillary Clinton “has begun to hate everyday Americans”.
Another warning sign to readers: be skeptical of sites that highlight certain sentences or words in bold lettering or caps. It's a form of editorializing without explicitly editorializing. By bolding words the author is telling the reader what is important. But that's not their job, they should be presenting the information and the reader will decide what is important. Paul Joseph Watson uses bold two more times in the article and this shows how shady and manipulative their operation is:
“I know she has begun to hate everyday Americans, but I think we should use it once the first time she says I’m running for president because you and everyday Americans need a champion,” writes Podesta.
^ Bolding only one part of the statement and not providing a proper explanation of what the statement actually meant. And further down:
This is huge.
So if you just skimmed the page you would come away with two concepts: 1) Hillary hates everyday Americans and 2) this story is huge. This is subtle manipulation - you may not have consciously noticed it the first time, but your brain did.
Can you provide a good reading list to learn more?
I'm currently doing my research project on Fake News. I am busy conducting a survey about Social Media use and how it links to fake news.
If you could spare 10 minutes of your time to do the survey, it would help me out a lot.
Here's a great example of fake news spreading like wildfire through the internet: https://www.facebook.com/mark.patton.56/posts/2413320715352128
Even Fox didn't stand behind this: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/01/31/fox-411-hanoi-jane-urban-myth-re-examined.html
I've flagged this as fake news within Facebook, but if you feel like doing hand-to-hand with people, throw the Fox link at them and help educate.