This has led to the rise of click bait – posts with headlines and/or graphics that all but dare you not to read them, sometimes with salacious or silly content that will encourage sharing. One annoying variety of click bait that became prominent starting in 2013 are “fake news” sites. They post content ostensibly similar in intent to the comedy site The Onion, without any of the clever or hilarious writing. Some of them deliberately design their sites to encourage confusion with well known media properties. One of them (National Report) even basically admitted in an interview that what they are doing is trolling extreme conservatives for clicks.
I’ve recently written about these sites, and how Facebook’s engagement numbers sometimes exaggerate their true reach. But exaggeration or not, Facebook still sends millions of readers every day to these sites and myriad other sources of misinformation. That’s a problem central to what skeptics are all about.
But last week Facebook made a change that might help solve this problem in a general way – and which also might be useful to skeptic activists. Read on.
Over 70 thousand people shared a story about a totally fake Sarah Palin quote! Over 5 million people shared a hoax story that Macaulay Culkin had died! It gets depressing hearing how many people get fooled by these hoaxes, doesn’t it?
The problem is, the numbers in those reports are wrong! Often, wildly wrong. They’re exaggerations caused by the confusing way that Facebook reports engagement.
Now, the underlying problem is real – social media hoaxes and rumors are bigger than ever. As a result debunking these things has become a popular pastime, well beyond the circle of organized skepticism.
On Virtual Skeptics this week I talked about the flip side of this website’s normal topic – tools to create misinformation instead of tools to debunk it. Of course any tool designed to work with real information can be used to distort as well.
We saw that this week when a news hoax was perpetrated via CNN’s “iReport” site – a place for citizens to submit journalism. It was a poorly written prediction of apocalypse for the year 2041 which credible sources like Phil Plait quickly debunked. Many sites including Doubtful News chided CNN for taking 22 hours to notice and take down the bogus story.
But there are also online tools designed specifically for creating hoaxes like this. They are usually intended for playing pranks on friends and the like. A new one emerged this week, which was my topic on Virtual Skeptics. Since my segment is very short (just over 6 minutes) I thought I would go ahead and embed it here so you can see what was discussed. Video and supporting links after the jump…