Fake News and Social Media: A Dangerous Mix

Social media usage has skyrocketed over the past decade, and it seems now that everyone is on at least one social media platform. What most social media users are not aware of however is the fake news epidemic that has been plaguing all forms of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Many users are unaware that they are reading fraudulent news and accept it as fact, causing massive shifts in popular belief. For instance, last month, Facebook promoted a fictitious news leak reporting that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had been fired from her position for supporting Hillary Clinton in the ongoing presidential campaign. Another, more laughable, example is depicted below.


Recently, Facebook and Twitter, joined a group of over 30 companies that have banded together in the fight against illegitimate news stories, and this coalition is titled First Draft. They define themselves as “experts sharing top tips and training in handling eyewitness media”. On their site they outline how to spot these fraudulent articles, fun ways to train your mind to spot them, and trending fake news.


News story posted by Breitbart News found to have used fake news sources

These stories are often successful through their use of the rhetorical appeals ethos, pathos, and logos. They develop ethos through the impersonation of ethical and credible sources, such as major news outlets. They then utilize pathos in the hopes that your emotional response will cause you to overlook the fraud, most commonly harping on fear.  These articles also exhibit logos, as they must create a logical enough argument to convince the reader it is factual. In an attempt to help cut down on the impact these stories have on a daily basis, here are some helpful tips on spotting phony news stories on your social media feed.

  • Check the date: Many fake news stories have been around for some time yet continue to circulate as new audiences view and repost the story, so make sure you investigate the links associated and manually check when the original story was posted.
  • Look at multiple hosts: A common way to spot these news articles is to look at where the popular sites that host them get their information. When a multitude of these popular sites post the same breaking news and all of them only cite the same original source, it’s time for some vetting.
  • Beware of Fear Mongering: Often times fake news will spread quickly due to fear of a recent outbreak or disaster, such as the Ebola outbreak of 2014 where various stories emerged falsely reporting the spread of the virus.
  • Examine source URLs: Some of these stories may seem credible as they appear to be provided by major news outlets. However, upon looking more closely, users will often notice the URLs are spoofs and not to be trusted.
  • Check the Images: Many fake news posts use convincing images to mislead readers, but a quick reverse image search (https://www.tineye.com/) can unveil any falsified imagery.
  • Scrutinize the Geographic Location: The last tip in this list asks that you consider the geographical location the story takes place, as many of falsified reports tend to originate from locations where news reports can be difficult to corroborate.


– Daniel Walsh