Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to spot fake news.

"There's a sucker born every minute." Most frequently attributed to P.T. Barnum.
“We won’t get fooled again.” Pete Townsend
Most people have been suckers at least once or twice in their lives. For example, before writing this article, I always thought that P.T. Barnum was the originator of the oft-quoted line about suckers.  Alas, it appears that I took too much for granted.
According to Quote Investigator, “The two expressions ‘there’s a fool born every minute’ and ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ both had anonymous attributions initially. Over time they were reassigned to prominent individuals of the time period. However, only the fame of P.T. Barnum has endured. Today, the phrase ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ is often ascribed to him. Yet, support for this ascription is very weak. Citations occurred at the very end of his life and after his death.”
Speaking of fools and suckers, many people are now being fooled by fake news. Another saying that many people are familiar with asserts that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I have not tracked down the exact origin of that line, but it appears that it may only go back fifty years or so. In any case, when it comes to fake news, I would suggest that if people come across news that’s hard to believe, or all too easy to believe, it might not be true.
Producers of fake news make money from people clicking on links. They use algorithms to figure out what people will click on. Before the election, an outrageous story about Donald Trump or anyone in his family could appeal to a certain audience. That will probably go on for as long as he is in office. Likewise, for a different audience, crazy stories about Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton could work. Facts and truth don’t matter to producers of fake news. All that matters to them is how many revenue producing clicks a story will get. There is a ton of fake news going around and it is meticulously tailored to motivate people to click.
For example, there have been numerous stories about how insanely stupid Sarah Palin is. One item that made the rounds had Palin talking about the way Jesus celebrated Easter. One of the comments to the story said, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Actually, that story was made up. The source was The Daily Currant, which on its About page identifies itself as, “an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media.” Still, many people believed the story and shared it because they wanted to believe it and they wanted others to believe as well.
So, how can Joe Sixpack spot fake news so that he, or she, is not sucked in by it?
First, if it’s from The Onion or The Daily Currant, it’s fake and potentially very funny.  
If it’s from somewhere else, click through to the website and look at the About page. If they mention satire, entertainment, etc., it’s fake. Look over other stories on the website. If some of them seem too stupid to be true, all of their stories may be fake. If the names of the reporters seem like made up names, they are probably pseudonyms.
Try to set aside your biases long enough to ask whether a the story is likely to be true. Many people are fooled because fake news stories they are consuming cater to their biases.
If you’re concerned about the news you’re consuming, here are a few articles you might like to check out.

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