Written by Joan Stevenson—
It happens everyday. You’re scrolling through your Facebook news feed and you see an unbelievable story
- Rat meat being sold as chicken nuggets
- A Wendy’s employee taking a dump in the chili
- A couple hiding out in and cooking meth in an attic at a Walmart
- Someone (man or woman) trying to smuggle a tube of biscuits out of Walmart in a particular cavity of their body and it explodes.
In these cases usually anything dealing with Walmart is suspect, but you generally have two reactions: you’re either fired up angry about it or doubled over in laughter. Whatever your reaction you have to pass it on, tweet, text, talk about it, comment. Only one problem…the news item is a fake. Usually the article is accompanied by a picture sometimes framed in a “headline news” font as if it has come from a credible source or news outlet but this is not the case.
This has been a problem for my Facebook feed for some time now, but it seems that lately there has been an overwhelming glut of false news being circulated. In this day and age of internet instant news there is a reason the word viral is used. Once we are “infected” we spread it to others. In most cases the people see the headline and react instead of actually reading the article itself. Now I’m not talking about articles from The Onion which is a known satire news site. The Onion generates funny news articles on current events. That’s what they do and what they are known for, but there are other sites that claim to be satire but they are not. Then there are articles that are deliberate clickbait whose headlines are to purposely make you click to read them. If you access FB from your computer you can usually see those articles in the margins to the right side of the page. They usually have an alarming title stating that a celebrity is “gone” prompting you to click and read the details. NOPE. These pages are driven by ads. when you click to get to those pages someone makes money. Here is the difference between these sites:
Fake/Hoax News Websites
- Fake/Hoax News sites are satire sites that are not funny. They are an attempt to play on gullible people who do not check sources and will just pass the news on as if it were really true.
- Satire websites are sites that make fun of the news. The stories are typically over the top and meant to be funny. The most famous satire site is The Onion
- Clickbait websites are sites that take bits of true stories but insinuate and make up other details to sew fear. Most of these are conspiratorial in nature are very unreliable.
What makes things even worse trying to sort out the truth from the hoax is that some articles do have a grain of truth in them. In the case of the rat meat, it was said that rat meat was being sold in the U.S. as chicken nuggets. This article was accompanied by a video showing men steaming and skinning rats alive. That video is true, but it took place in the kitchen of a restaurant in China where rat meat is a delicacy (I know, gross right?). The shocking nature of this video was to trick you into believing that this was happening right here and now. There is no great conspiracy substituting rat meat with chicken nuggets, but articles beg to differ. This article resonated so soundly with one of my FB friends that they actually thought this was true and did not believe me when I debunked the article. They believed that what they had read was real. They were adamant that this WAS true almost to the point of animosity.
Then you have fantastic stories like the case of the Wendy’s worker defecating in the chili which was totally false, but then a TRUE story of a Kelloggs employee urinating on a Rice Krispies conveyor belt comes along. He even had the balls to make a video of that and post it online. So with things like that happening, it makes the fake story even more believable. This needless glut of fake information just further clouds our brains and gets spread endlessly. It contributes to the dumbing down of culture, of society.
Aside from spreading false facts and misconceptions, these articles can cause harm and perpetuate hate, prejudice. They can also fan the flames of current political and social issues. Take one article that was posted by World News Daily Report. It stated that a woman in North Carolina was mistaken for a transgendered man and was forcibly kicked out of a bathroom and beaten and tased by the police. Given the current climate of transphobia in this country it seems like something that would be likely to happen. In fact I personally know of someone who has gone through a similar experience, so it would make sense that this is something that most people would be influenced to click to read. It was amazing to see how many times this story was shared on my FB feed by so many people. This story was COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY FALSE!!! Spreading lies like that could get someone injured or killed. Another recent article I have seen is regarding the recent death of music industry icon Prince. An article surfaced claiming that Prince was a staunch Republican and held conservative views and somehow this article was insinuating that his death was a good thing for the Republican party. So co-opting Prince’s death was good for the GOP? In a recent article published by politicops.com the headline read Patrick Rushing: “I’m Not Racist, But Putting A Black Gorilla On The $20 Bill Will Destroy Our Economy” Rushing, former mayor of a town near Spokane, Washington, was referring to the recent decision of the Treasury Department to put Harriet Tubman, an icon of Black American history, on the $20 bill replacing Andrew Jackson. That headline is extremely inflammatory, complete and total clickbait and absolutely false, but Mr. Rushing actually DID make racist remarks about Barack and Michelle Obama which caused his city council to call for his resignation. One silver lining to the politicops.com website is that they have two buttons above every article: Show Facts and Hide Facts. When you click the show facts button everything that is true about that article will be highlighted. When you click the hide facts button the highlights will disappear. In the case of this particular article the only thing that was true is the fact that the Treasury Department is putting Harriet on the bill.
It is worrying to me that there is so much fake news circulating. If you don’t want to further spread the sickness, the only advice I can offer is be vigilant. Don’t just automatically repost that article because you like or agree with the headline or because you find it funny (except if it’s from The Onion then it’s meant to be funny) check the source. Check Google, or Snopes.com. There are some articles that are clearly made as satire and those that are just stupid or harmful. I check any news articles that I am inclined to repost. If the source is one I know not to be credible, I debunk it right away. It might seem a pain in the ass to actually read or check on what you’re about to post, but doing that will stop the spread of confusion and misinformation and it might actually save brain cells.
For the online version of this article I will give a link to a list of fake news sites. If the story comes from one of the websites listed, it’s fake.
Here are some links for lists of fake news websites: http://fakenewswatch.com/
This link has more international fake news websites: http://hoaxoffame.tumblr.com/post/98470722477/fake-news-websites-you-shouldnt-trust