Editorial: The problem with fake news

People are being deceived through the news and do not see a problem with it

The Web has made it increasingly easy for sites built overnight to find massive audiences with little or no effort. This is true for not only classic viral sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed, but also for sites trafficking in completely fake news.

There was a time fake news stories could only be found on the shelves of supermarket entertainment sections. The fake news that had been confined to a small space now spreads like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter. The line that was drawn between what’s real and what’s not has been blurred.

It is important people understand what happens when they share fake content. You are insinuating that you believe in the story being shared, and it also ensures other people are going to see the article as well.

Facebook released a statement regarding this issue hoping to keep people worried about misleading information at ease.

“We are not reviewing content and making a determination on its accuracy,” says Facebook engineer Erich Owens and research scientist Udi Weinsberg. However, users will be given the option to flag things as a “false news story” via a drop-down menu on each post.

Unlike items flagged by Facebook’s sensitive content filters, fake news stories will not be entirely deleted from the platform — a warning label will be attached to the story and it will be downgraded within users’ news feeds.

And the readers are certainly to blame as well. On the audience level, it’s a given today readers don’t read stories nearly as often as they click on them. Publishers frequently exploit this tendency by writing stories with sensational headlines that they undermine within the articles.

It’s easy for false stories to confuse users and quickly gain traction on Facebook, largely because the information or “story” is so decoupled from the publisher. A user may post one story from The New York Times and one from the fake news site National Report, and both will look nearly identical in a user’s feed.

It is important for social media users to understand exactly what they are sharing and the impact they have. Sharing fake stories even when knowing of their falsity doesn’t mean the ignorance of others can be surpassed.