Fake news: we’ve all heard about it but what does it actually mean? Is it really a new concept or just a fancy buzzword?
What Is Fake News?
Well let’s keep it simple. Fake news is news that deliberately isn’t factually accurate. It’s a type of pseudo-journalism that spreads premeditated misinformation or hoaxes via traditional print and broadcast news media or social media with mischievous or malicious intent. So, it isn’t really a new concept. In fact, many would argue fake news has been around since at least Roman times when Octavian’s fabricated storytelling helped him defeat Mark Antony and become the first emperor of Rome.
Where Did The Term Come From?
While Octavian may have worked the fake news angle in ancient times, it was Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump that helped cement the term into our modern vernacular.
The progress of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election campaign prompted much discussion around whether false stories and fake news contributed to the outcome. In response to this, in November 2016 Mark Zuckerberg announced his plan to try and combat the alleged spread of deliberate misinformation on Facebook. And the term ‘fake news’ had traction.
Then President Trump took on the fake news baton. At his first press conference in 2017 as President-elect, he called Senior White House Correspondent for CNN, Jim Acosta, ‘fake news’. Since then, Mr Trump has been calling out major media outlets several times a week for being ‘fake news’ via his Twitter feed.
As noted above, fake news or using the media to distribute propaganda isn’t new. There are countless examples throughout history of savvy strategic types using the media and propaganda with an agenda. Think of the British Government’s efforts in WWI to rouse its people against the Germans whom they labelled ‘the Hun’ or ‘barbarians’.
Why Did Fake News Gain Such Momentum In 2016?
But let’s get back to 2016 and add a few different factors: a social media culture; a U.S. Presidential election; a flamboyant ‘anti-establishment’ candidate who loved conspiracy theories (‘Ted Cruz’s father associated with JFK assassin‘); and some clever internet types who realised they could cash in. So the 21st century fake news phenomenon was born – and rapidly became a trending topic on the public agenda. Which in my view is actually a good thing.
Critical Thinking Cyber Skills Are Essential
Being able to identify fake news online is a vital cyber skill. Anyone with access to a smartphone or computer can publish anything online, so it’s a Wild West mash-up of real news and misinformation! And with research showing that most teens get their news from social media feeds, it is imperative that we arm our kids with critical thinking cyber skills so they can decode and decipher online information for themselves.
Tips To Identify Fake News
So, here are my top tips to help you and your kids work out what’s fake and what’s factual online:
1. Investigate the site.
Do your ‘due diligence’ on the site. Is it an unusual URL or site name ending in ‘co’ that is trying to look legitimate, but isn’t? Is there contact information on the site? Does the author exist? If the site requires you to register before you can access it, then your alarm bells should be ringing!
2. Is it a solo news story?
Are other credible, mainstream news outlets reporting the same story? If not, you need to dig deeper.
3. Look past the headline.
Headlines may be clickbait – often designed to attract traffic. So don’t rely on the headline for the message, read the whole story.
4. Trust your gut instinct.
If the site is littered with typos, overuses capital letters, makes bold claims with no sources, or hosts pictures of girls in bikinis… there’s a fair chance it isn’t legitimate. Get outta there!
5. Perhaps it’s a joke?
There’s a lot of humour and satire online. Often, if the story is too ‘over the top’, it may be a satirical piece. Check out the site and the author just to be sure.
6. Check your biases.
Are your own beliefs affecting your judgement? Try to maintain some objectivity.
7. How did you react?
Clickbait and fake news often seek an extreme reaction. So if you feel upset or elated after reading a story, it may not be real news!
8. Be a detective – ask some basic questions:
- What’s the date of publication? Is the story relevant and up-to-date?
- Who gets paid if you click on this story?
- Who is affected by the message in the story?
- Is it a balanced argument? Has anything been left out of the story?
9. Ask an expert.
I believe the current focus on fake news is a blessing in disguise. Teaching our kids to be independent, critical thinkers should be our top priority as parents. And the prevalence of fake news helps us do just that. So, thank you, Mr President.
Till next time!