Let’s talk about fake news. I don’t mean the stories, like The Pope endorsing The Donald or truckloads of Hillary’s hired protesters, but the phenomenon itself.
During the election cycle, a whopping 49 percent of all news stories that were shared on Facebook at least 100 times were completely made up.
So was that.^
If you believed it—even for a second — I encourage you to keep reading.
While the Internet Gods promised to cut off fake news sites’ funding, one larger question lingers: how do we — the rising generation of news consumers — ensure that fake news fails to influence future elections, ideologies, and democracy?
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Ha! I would never fall for that stuff. I have a degree from [insert liberal arts college]. I only read The Times and Vox and Quartz… I use Medium for christ’s sake.”
While I may be guilty of this too, that doesn’t excuse this real, fact-checked stat: you, all your friends, and your family spend an average of 40 minutes on Facebook every day. You’ve likely engaged with fake news and promoted it to the top of someone else’s newsfeed.
Oh you did it ironically? Tight, dude.
Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably a part of the problem. Vox.com’s Tim Lee explained it best:
“A big problem here is that the internet has broken down the traditional distinction between professional news-gathering and amateur rumor-mongering.”
But we, the digital generation, will be able to tell the difference, right?
Wrong. Students from middle school all the way through college are terrible at distinguishing real news from fake or paid news. According to one study, young people “may be able to fit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.”
They presented students with Tweets from advocacy groups and fake news stories much like the ones that could have swayed this election. The data shows that less than half actually clicked through to assess if the information was legitimate. Hell, more than 30 percent of students thought a fake Fox News account was more trustworthy than the real one.
But how many young people are using social media to get their news anyway? As it turns out, Facebook is by far the most common source for news about government and politics amongst Millennials.
Whether you like it or not, you contributed to this phenomena in some form or fashion. So, let’s come up with some proactive solutions to our original questions: how do we — the rising generation of news consumers — ensure that fake news fails to influence future elections, ideologies, and democracy?
1) Interpret Facebook posts seriously, but not literally.
David Cohn, a mentor of mine and digital journalism mastermind, describes the inherent problem in seeking objectivity in social media ecosystems when he says: “When I see content shared by a friend, I am not first learning about the world, I am primarily learning about my friend. Facts don’t matter. Truth does. Tim’s truth. Tim’s view of the world.”
The Dharma of Facebook: Fake News Is Downstream of Facebook’s True Purpose.
The “News Feed” on Facebook is a misnomer.
When we share content on social platforms, we aren’t informing the world about the world; we are informing the world about our worldview.
Do your best to interpret each news story in your “news” feed as an ideological descriptor of the person sharing it. Only after clicking through, reading, and discovering what lies in fact or fiction can you decide what to take literally.
2) Practice media literacy.
Every little incy wincy action you make online — click, scroll, download, hover, keystroke, search, buy, copy, paste, upgrade, view, comment — is tracked, and it increases the news story’s reach. This applies to all sites, not just Facebook and Twitter.
Again, in the words of David Cohn, “all code is political.”
To some, this is obvious. To others, this is alarming. To the former: don’t roll your eyes. To the latter: don’t panic.
Make more deliberate choices with your news sources.
Many companies out there see you as a passive consumer who thinks on the surface. Let’s prove them wrong by sharing news from sources that bake trust, care, and accuracy into their ethos.
Traditional publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post remain strong because of their reliability factor. New wave digital news sources aim for simplicity and context (Vox), authenticity (Vice), and stories based on data, not rhetoric (The Upshot, FiveThirtyEight).
A new venture set to launch early in 2017 from POLITICO founders Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen called “Axios,” which literally translates to “I am worthy,” claims to put trust, quality, and the reader above everything else. Their manifesto says that Axios will strive to “deliver the cleanest, smartest, most efficient and trustworthy experience for readers and advertisers alike.”
At my own company, The Rival, Hannah Mouyal (VP of Operations) and I spent months crafting a series of content regulations that would ensure our opinion, humor, and satire content was high-quality, honest, and never misguided our readers.
These are the organizations you need to engage with. Don’t spread a headline just because it aligns with your values; do so because it aligns with your values and it’s truthful, trustworthy, and high quality.
3) Watch this. Now.
Chrome extensions, false URLs, and cross referencing stories with other outlets are a few very simple ways to avoid engaging with and spreading fake news.
Bless you Washington Post. Thanks for this and for being you. Besos. Pun intended.
We can’t prove that fake news decided the results of this election, but it’s apparent that it had a strong influence. It’s propaganda, but its power to disseminate and persuade lies in our hands.
Don’t think that what you do online is only influencing your inner circle, because it isn’t. Make good choices, have self-awareness when engaging, and — above all — keep seeking the truth.