How to Protect Yourself Against Fake Claims
Fake news is one of the biggest buzzwords of the last few months. But do you actually understand fake news? Can you recognize fake news?
Do you understand the dangers of fake news and the consequences it has on the world? Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about fake news, including the websites that promote fake news – and how to spot fake news from a mile away.
Why Fake News Exists
You know what fake news is: it’s news stories containing stuff that isn’t true.
Some fake news is easy to spot: like the article your aunt shared on Facebook claiming that Mark Zuckerberg was going to start charging people a monthly fee to use Facebook.
Other fake news, however, isn’t as easy to spot. Major media outlets can publish fake news too.
Rolling Stone recently got in trouble for sharing false reports from an alleged rape victim at the University of Virginia, for example. They were later forced to retract the story after the story turned out to be a hoax.
Here are a few of the reasons why fake news exists:
- Promoting a certain political view
- Generating ad revenue
- Bad sources, bad info, or bad fact-checking
- Conspiracy theories based on unfounded claims or evidence
- Thousands of other reasons
Today, fake news comes in all different varieties. Some people create fake news just to troll the internet – like by sharing articles saying that they discovered a cure for cancer. Others share it to put forward political opinions. Donald Trump has become infamous for calling certain media outlets “fake news”, for example.
The reason fake news continues to exist, however, is because it continues to generate pageviews, ad revenue, and attention for certain individuals or organizations. Some reports even show that fake news outperformed “real news” in 2016, based on pageviews.
As long as that trend continues, fake news isn’t going away anytime soon.
Why Fake News Is Dangerous
It’s easy to laugh at fake news stories. It’s true: some fake news is hilarious.
But fake news isn’t always a laughing matter. Consider people who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They know they’re going to die within a few months. They log onto Facebook and see a news article talking about a cure for their rare type of cancer. They get excited, only to later find out that it’s fake news.
Fake news has a profound impact on the health and wellness industries. Fake science and health news is particularly common. We’ve seen all sorts of fake news stories from the industry – including one claiming that Nutella could cure cancer.
Beyond the health and wellness world, fake news comes with plenty of real world consequences.
The 2016 election in the United States may have been the best example of that. Fake news was rampant on all sides of the political spectrum. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you have to admit that fake news had a major influence on the election.
Here are some of the reasons why fake news is dangerous:
- It can promote unsafe cures, home remedies, or treatments
- It can convince someone there’s a cure for their terminal illness or disease, like cancer
- It damages reputations of individuals and organizations, regardless of the truth of the fake news
- Fake crime reports can encourage actions against certain people, races, or demographics
- It can influence politics
It can have a profound impact on the stock market, causing a company’s stock to plummet or rise after a fake news story is released
Obviously, fake news can be dangerous. Now, let’s take a look at some of the best examples of fake news.
The Best Examples Of Fake News In History
The best way to avoid fake news is to learn how to spot it. The best way to learn how to spot it is to look at previous examples.
Here are some of the biggest fake news stories of the last few years:
BuzzFeed Publishes Trump Intelligence Dossier
BuzzFeed’s publication of the Trump dossier is without a doubt the biggest fake news story of the last few years. In January 2017, BuzzFeed published an article called “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties to Russia”.
BuzzFeed published a 35 page dossier reportedly obtained from a former intelligence officer. Throughout 2016, that dossier had been distributed throughout the intelligence community and to media organizations – but they refused to publish the dossier because they couldn’t verify the claims.
The dossier, however, was legitimate enough that President Obama and incoming President Trump were briefed on the allegations in the report, and the possibility that Russia could have compromising information to use as blackmail against Trump.
We all know the allegations – including the fact that Trump forced Russian prostitutes to urinate in the presidential suite of a hotel in Moscow.
However, none of the allegations have been confirmed. BuzzFeed admitted that the entire thing could be fake news, and that the reports were impossible ton confirm. Trump tweeted that it was “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT” after the dossier was published online.
We may never know if the dossier is or isn’t fake news. However, it’s one of the best examples of fake news having a powerful impact on world events. Trump might face “golden shower” jokes for the rest of his life for an event that may never have happened.
Pope Francis Endorses Donald Trump for President
Donald Trump endorsements were a huge moneymaker for fake news websites. Trump supporters were eager to share any major endorsements, even if they were totally false.
The best example of this was the story where “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president.”
The story reportedly had 960,000 Facebook engagements before the original author of the story admitted to fabricating content. The story was published on a site called WTOE 5 News before being copied onto a popular fake news website Ending the Fed.
Donald Trump Sends His Own Plane to Rescue Marines
This fake news story was published all the way back in May, and it was one of the more legitimate-sounding fake news stories of the year. The story was published on AmericanMilitaryNews.com, where it racked up nearly 1 million engagements.
The headline of the story says, “Donald Trump sent his own plane to transport 200 stranded marines”.
The story goes that back in 1991, marines were stranded in Iraq after Operation Desert Storm. When Donald Trump, good Samaritan that he is, found out, he sent his Trump-branded plane to the desert to pick them up.
The craziest part of this story is that it’s not entirely fake news: the story was published on Hannity.com, the website of popular conservative commenter Sean Hannity, where the story is still up today. Trump’s team also confirmed the story.
After fact checking, it was revealed that a Trump-branded plane really did pick up marines after Operation Desert Storm. The plane was a Boeing 727 that was owned by Trump Shuttle Inc., an airline company operated by Trump between 1989 and 1992.
TSI never turned a profit, and the company defaulted on its loans in 1990. Before the business was sold for scraps, TSI contracted out planes to the US Army.
The fake news story makes it sound like Trump flew his personal private plane to Iraq to pick up the marines. In reality, the US Army paid Trump’s airline to use its planes for transport.
Denver Guardian Publishes Story Of FBI Agent Found Dead After Leaking Hillary’s Emails
A good fake news story starts with a plausible idea. One of the biggest fake news stories of the year was titled, “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide”.
The story was published by the Denver Guardian, which called itself Denver’s oldest and most trusted news source.
In reality, the Denver Guardian doesn’t even exist: the Denver Post is the city’s oldest-running newspaper. The address used on the website is an empty parking lot. The story was entirely fabricated, but not before being shared over half a million times across the internet.
Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance
According to BuzzFeed, this was the biggest fake news story of the year, racking up over 2.1 million shares, comments, or reactions on Facebook.
The article was titled, “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide”. It was published on ABCNews.com.co, which looks like a legitimate news site at first glance.
Like other stories here, the story was totally fabricated. However, it’s easy to see why these stories were successful. If you didn’t like Obama, then read the headline, then you’d be outraged and want to share the news with the world.
Top 7 Ways to Avoid Fake News
Obviously, fake news was a big deal around the world in 2016, and it will continue to be a big deal over the coming years. Avoiding fake news is extremely important. Here are some of the best ways to do that:
1) Be Skeptical of Everything on the Internet
If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. That lesson is doubly true on the internet. If you read something that’s particularly shocking, surprising, or frightening, then take a closer look at the story and its sources.
2) Check the URL Extra Carefully
You can avoid 95% of fake news stories by checking the URL. Fake news websites know you’re going to check the URL, so they purposely give their sites misleading titles. We’ve seen news sites called things like TMZHipHop.com, for example.
Other fake news sites prey on your political views, calling themselves things like “American Military News”, when in reality they have no connection to the military.
3) Google the Name of the Fake News Website
Millions of people believed a fake news story because the story was published by “The Denver Guardian”. That sounds like a totally real newspaper, but it’s not.
Unless you Google the name, or you have an encyclopedic knowledge of Denver media outlets, you wouldn’t know that.
Some of the biggest fake news stories of the year were created by websites like “The Valley Report”, “Empire Herald”, and “TMZ Hip Hop”, which all sound very real.
4) Understand Bias, and Why Someone Wants to Tell You Something
Many media companies are private organizations. They’re run by certain corporations or individuals that have certain interests.
Why does Fox News publish an unusually high number of stories about ISIS, a group of a few thousand rebels living in a desert halfway across the world from America? It’s because Fox News – like other media outlets – has various political objectives and interests that it tries to promote.
5) Check Who Owns your Media
America’s media is infamous for pushing forward various private views. This makes it difficult to know what’s the truth, and what’s not.
Websites like FreePress.net have ownership charts for media outlets across America, letting you know who owns the media you’re consuming, and why they might be biased.
6) Check Major Media Outlets After Reading About Fake News
If scientists discover a cure for cancer, you’re going to be hearing about it on every major news website in the world.
You’re not going to read about the cure for cancer on “TMZ Hip Hop” or “The Valley Report”. You’re going to see it on the BBC, Sky News, CNN, CBC, ABC, CCTV (Chinese media), Al Jazeera and every other major media organization in the world.
If you don’t see them talking about it, then it’s probably not real news.
7) Get Your News From Reputable Sources – Not Social Media
Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are not reliable sources for news. Instead of getting your news from your conservative uncle or liberal aunt on Facebook, or from dubious sources like BuzzFeed, get it from world-renowned news agencies like:
- The BBC
- The Guardian (UK)
- CBC (Canada)
- ABC (Australia)
- The Associated Press
- The Wall Street Journal
- Al Jazeera
No news website is perfect. The sites listed above undoubtedly have problems. However, if you check several of those websites daily, you’ll have a smarter, more informed understanding of the world with minimal censorship and bias.
Be Smarter On the Internet With Fake News
All of the tips above boil down to this: be smarter on the internet. Don’t believe everything you read, and don’t let your bias cloud your judgement.
Think of why someone is telling you something. Understand that anyone can create a website and make up stuff online – and people do it every day to generate ad revenue. If you can keep these tips in mind, you can avoid the dangers of fake news.