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Don't be fooled

Apr 01, 2014 11:45 am | By Ryan McCracken | St. Paul Journal

We're dealing with an epidemic of fake news in social media, and I for one am sick of it.

Falsified news reports are plaguing Facebook feeds. These stories can range from the absurd to the believable - likely more absurd today than anything else - however even the smallest lie can have its consequences.

In the past month alone I've seen several fake stories crop up on my Facebook “news feed,” whether it's a hoax claiming NBA star Blake Griffin slapped Justin Bieber in a California Starbucks, or that a person browsing Google Earth came across the distress signal of a woman trapped on a deserted island for seven years.

Fake news has the direct consequence of misinformation and deception, leaving the reader either feeling stupid for being duped, or unknowingly adding another false factoid to their mental compendium. Furthermore, it creates a type of “cry wolf” situation, where real news stories can be discredited on the notion that they are hard to believe.

These stories are not satire. There is a distinct difference between satire, and a hoax. I've seen many comment on the false nature of a number of these stories posted to Facebook, but I've yet to see anyone praise them for the value of satire. This is because falsifying news is not a form of satire in itself. The reader is supposed to be aware of satire, thus, if the article was created with the end goal of deceiving the audience, it is, by definition, a hoax.

While browsing some of these fake news posts, I came across a comment that struck my attention. A mother questioned how she is supposed to teach her children what is real and what is fake, when she cannot distinguish it for herself. Well, I'm here to help. So here is a list of tips to help you avoid being fooled by Facebook's fake news epidemic.

1. Do not use Facebook for your news: Many media outlets have spent decades upon decades creating a reputation as reliable news sources, give them some credit.

2. If it seems too good, bad or wild to be true, it probably is.

3. Google the topic, if major media outlets aren't covering the fact that Blake Griffin slapped Justin Bieber, that's because it didn't happen.

4. If numbers below 10 are written in digits rather than spelled out, it's either fake news, or poorly written news. Canadian Press style dictates one through nine are spelled out, while 10 and above are represented in digits.

5. If the story contains a litany of spelling errors, lacks proper punctuation, or if the experts quoted in the story do not exist, it's either fake news, or poorly written news. Look elsewhere.

Ultimately this whole fiasco started with the inception of the Internet. Media outlets were completely unaware of its power, and started uploading content for free. Two decades later, the media has backed itself into a corner, struggling to survive in an evolving marketplace and dealing with a world that now expects its news for free.

With the inception of social media also came the birth of citizen journalism, the idea that the vast majority of news can be obtained through places like Facebook and Twitter. Not a bad idea, in theory, only journalism is a profession, not a hobby.

As a result, many mainstream outlets felt forced to over-sensationalize in order to retain an audience, and audiences eventually became alienated by this sensationalism. We're in a stage where the general public seems to have an issue with trusting the media, but this could end up being a good thing. I can only hope that it won't be long before the general public entirely loses its trust in social media as a news source, and falls back upon reliable outlets.

We are overloaded with thousands of different media sources, and at times it can be difficult to determine which sites provide reliable content, and which sites are out to fool you for a hit count. The easiest solution for this is to stop using social media to gather news. And remember, if it seems too good, too bad, or too absurd to be true, you're probably being fooled.

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