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Have You Fallen For a Fake News Story?

Posted: January 31st 2017

“Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Trump for President”

The story, originating from news site WTOE 5 News, swept the internet in late 2016 and, according to data from Buzzfeed, inspired nearly a million Facebook engagements.

It was, of course, entirely fabricated – popes are traditionally politically independent – and just one of many ‘fake news’ stories that proliferated during 2016. Did Obama really sign an executive order banning the pledge of allegiance in schools nationwide? Of course not! Was a woman really arrested for defecating on her boss’ desk after winning the lottery? Sounds plausible, but no. The stories, though, were shared and responded to nearly 4 million times on Facebook.

Although it is difficult to accurately predict how many of those who responded to stories actually believed them to be true, a recent survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs and Buzzfeed discovered that fake news headlines have duped American adults around 75% of the time.

The growing proliferation of ‘fake news’ has inspired the launch of a Parliamentary Inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, following concerns that the phenomenon might represent a threat to democracy.

The Committee will seek to determine an industry-standard definition of fake news, identify those susceptible to being misled and examine the role the BBC might play in its spread through the UK. It will also consider whether social media platforms and search engines, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, are doing enough to monitor and control its growth.

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What can you do?

The BBC has already produced some guidelines for people to consider when sharing news stories on social media platforms, and ask you to think about the following:

  • Have I heard of the publisher before?
  • Is this the source I think it is, or does it sound a bit like them?
  • Can I point to where this happened on a map?
  • Has this been reported anywhere else?
  • Is there more than one piece of evidence for this claim?
  • Could this be something else?

If you suspect that any story you are reading is false or misleading, think twice. The only sharing you should do is with the social media provider.

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