In September 2015, I was seeing this story on Facebook, disseminated by people I knew personally, that indicated that President Obama was going to receive his second Nobel Peace Prize. Instantly, I knew it was bogus – among other things, the award would be issued later in the year – but I wanted to know WHY it was spreading so quickly.
Both NationalReport.com and USAToday.com.co who published the story are notorious fake websites, that do not print legitimate news. USAToday.com.co is not affiliated with USAToday in any way, according to its disclaimer. USAToday.com.co is part of a growing number of .co websites that attempt to disguise themselves as reputable brands that includes NYTimes.com.co, washingtonpost.com.co and NBC.com.co. These are fake news websites and nothing on them should be taken seriously.
In fact, a USAToday.com.co report that the new Facebook “dislike” button would delete posts with 10 dislikes was gaining some traction. It’s a devilishly potent formula of taking a fact – in this case, Facebook installing a “dislike” button – then tapping into suspicions about Facebook, and coming up with a credible lie.
HowStuffWorks has a story on 10 Ways to Spot a Fake News Story, not particularly useful. It does note that there are satire sites such as The Onion, which would also apply to the Borowitz report at the New Yorker. These are clearly designed to tell a greater truth.
A recent article in The Onion: Pope Francis Kills 3 Hours Milling Around Atlanta Airport During Layover To D.C. – shows how the leader of over a billion Catholics might spend time milling around the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, like many passengers actually do. Now that they are known as such, these web pages are less likely to be incorrectly disseminated as true, though, in the past couple years, the governments of Iran and China have been fooled.
Whereas sites such as The Daily Currant and its ilk have beguiled even US mainstream media organizations. “The site’s business model as an ad-driven clickbait-generator relies on it. When Currant stories go viral, it’s not because their satire contains essential truths, but rather because their satire is taken as truth— and usually that ‘truth’ is engineered to outrage a particular frequency of the political spectrum. As Slate’s Josh Voorhees wrote…, ‘It’s a classic Currant con, one that relies on its mark wanting to believe a particular story is true.'”
This doesn’t even count the sites designed to distort the narrative, to meet a political agenda. Conservative media claiming a picture shows Syrian refugees with ISIS flags used a real picture, a counter-protest to anti-Islam policies. The flag wasn’t an ISIS flag, because in May 2012, when the picture was taken, there was no ISIS at the time.
One of the more clever cases involved the BBC, Dow and the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster.
As a librarian and someone who seeks to be an informed citizen, this is a challenge. One can’t always trust the (corporate) press to get it right; see Judith Miller and the New York Times on the run-up to the Iraq war, for a classic example.
I try to read/watch a variety of sources and determine whether a narrative passes the sniff test. It’s not always easy.