Make America (and everybody else) Fact-Check Again: You Should Shame Sharers of Fake News

Daily, millions of people engage in vitriolic online discussions. Helpfully, journalists have provided you the resources to shame your online opponents by exposing their gullibility and lording your superior intellect over them!

“Fake news” are news articles that purport to be fact but are actually created in Macedonia (or elsewhere) to misinform, entertain or generate advertising revenue. During the 2016 US Election, fake news gained prominence as people instantaneously distributed such articles to millions of Internet users. The Senior Editor-at-large at NowThis news, Andy Carvin, stated “social tools have made sharing as simple as clicking a button that says ‘share’ on it, it has lowered the barrier of entry for everyone to become a propagandist”.

People are concerned. It may or may not have influenced the results of the US Election. The UK Parliament launched an inquiry and yesterday, Australian Parliament announced it would too. Journalists fear that trust in the media overall will be eroded – a recent study found that Americans trust the sharer of news over which organisation it.

Ways to deal with fake news have been suggested and they have flaws:

Regulation: Although 45% of Americans feel the government should handle it. Carvin warns that “anything that starts to impinging on what’s perceived as free speech or freedom of the press” wouldn’t be approved by any administration.

Computer algorithms: A work in progress, Carvin is concerned that algorithms contain their programmers’ in-built biases and whether the public would want Facebook to become an “arbiter of truth”.

Human curation: there are too many articles to review but Facebook now allows flagging of fake news for review.

Improving media literacy: Numerous polls indicate that a majority of Americans still can’t distinguish fake news. Google has backed the First Draft Coalition whose website includes resources to help users verify news. Despite this, Carvin is skeptical “having a news organisation saying ‘we’re going to go out and start a media literacy campaign to fix this’ wouldn’t work either. Essentially people have been duped into believing all of this misinformation and so do we practically have to play the same game to dupe people back into reality?“

Radio National presenter Paul Barclay suggests “people need their own incentive to want to search down and be skeptical of the information they read“. This blog proposes that your incentive should be to publicly shame people who spread fake news. I interviewed several people on how they have responded to friends posting fake news and none of them have tried this tactic.

The ignorant can spread misinformation in a second and after your fact check, you can counter that just as quickly. If your Internet opponents don’t yield to being shamed after receiving a quick fact check, you can always resort to the usual name calling and profanity.

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Infographic: How to Spot Fake News from International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

Recommended fact-checking resources include:

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