The benefits of social media are undeniable – from building brand loyalty to converting target audience members, sites like Twitter and Facebook are tremendously helpful tools for businesses and individuals alike.
Of course, there are pitfalls to our social media-dependent lives. In 2016, it become increasingly obvious that the spread of “fake news” ranks high among these pitfalls. While misleading click bait has become the new norm, you can avoid getting duped by understanding the fundamentals of fake news.
What you need to know about fake news:
- Social media accelerates the spread of misinformation. Fake news is certainly not a new concept, but social media makes it more difficult than ever to sort the real news from the phoney. “Alternative facts” spread at alarming speeds – an outrageous headline can get hundreds of thousands of shares in a matter of days, making the “news” seem more legit than it actually is. When it comes to online buzz, the truth pales in comparison to controversy.
- Fake news pays. Fake news is profitable for both the writers and the individuals that the stories support. As Buzzfeed News reported in late 2016, these writers overlook facts in favour of revenue; the stories they write don’t necessarily reflect their personal opinions or views. Sensationalized American political stories bring in the most cash and Facebook is the most profitable platform – it’s no wonder that the 2016 US election brought fake news to the forefront. Fake news writing is a business; higher engagement equals higher revenue.
- The consequences of these stories are far-reaching. As you’ve probably heard by now, many people believe fake news influenced the outcome of the 2016 US election. Facebook has shouldered much of the public blame – after all, the social media giant is a primary news source for many of its users. While Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg claims that “99% of what people see is authentic” in regards to Facebook news stories, it’s undeniable that fake and misleading headlines leave lasting impressions on those who come across them.
- Digital advertising platforms are trying to tackle the problem. For digital advertisers, it’s distressing to think that their ad spends could be funding these misleading stories – many advertisers don’t know every site their ads run on. Fortunately, Facebook is launching a new initiative to help stop the spread of fake news; Google is also taking action against spreading misinformation. If all goes to plan, we can look forward to a future with much less fake news clogging up our social media feeds.
While it’s impossible to determine if fake news stories can truly sway election results – as well as other national and global events – the lesson here is to take “news” articles with a grain of salt. Though it’s common knowledge that you can’t believe everything you read online, many people let personal bias cloud their judgement. Before sharing posts on social media, do a background check – are multiple sources reporting the same story? Are these sources well trusted and credible?
Remember, anything you share online impacts your reputation, regardless of whether you wrote the piece yourself. With a critical eye, you can avoid the traps of fake news and share meaningful, honest information with your followers instead.
Can you sort real news from the fake and the satirical? Take The Globe and Mail’s fake news quiz.