Lies, damned lies and fake news

Fake news is not a new thing, so why do we fall for it?

We all hate being lied to, but we have got used to the fact that it happens to us on an almost daily basis. Most of us are wise to hoax phone calls, such as the ones from “Microsoft” telling us there is a problem with our computer, or those from a bank asking for our account details.  

But now we have to be on our guard that not everything we read and see is real – the undesired phenomena of fake news. And by fake news we mean something that is actually made up, not President Trump’s version of fake news where he considers anything published that he doesn’t like as fake news.

Amazingly, fake news is not a new thing. In fact, it was 100 years ago that one of the most famous fake news hoaxes managed to fool people across the world. In 1917 two young girls in Yorkshire claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. It was a stunning deception and the Cottingley Fairies, which managed to fool the self-styled detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, actually turned out to be cardboard cut-outs.

Fast forward 100 years and it isn’t two young girls that are pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Both Facebook and Google are regularly in the hot seat for failing to hold back the tide of fake news. A lot of the stories are clickbait, which hope to lure readers over to particular websites, while others are so outlandish that it is amazing anyone thinks they are real. More disturbingly are the fake stories like during the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting when both platforms ‘prominently displayed false reports on the unfolding tragedy’.  The article published by Forbes can be read here


The question is, why do some of us believe stories like this, which cause so much outrage?

If we didn’t fall for these news stories and share them, then they wouldn’t cause so much trouble. One explanation is that we aren’t paying enough attention to the credibility of the news source when we read it online. Studies have shown that online news readers don’t seem to care about the importance of journalistic sourcing. Granted, some will argue over the accuracy of the reporting of the mainstream media, but by and large, why would you believe something seen online, a blog post, social media post etc etc, where you can’t verify the source, over the news published by the likes of the BBC, Sky News, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, etc etc.

While there is a huge responsibility and requirement on the media to ensure they check facts before reporting, there’s also a responsibility on the public to check too. If you read something that doesn’t seem quite right, or is controversial, why not verify it by checking another news source.

A hundred years ago Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a photo of the Cottingley Fairies to illustrate an article in The Strand Magazine. Doyle was a spiritualist and saw the photos as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. How are we any different today? In a world where political divides run deep, there is anger against banks and big businesses and celebrities seem to rule the world, is it any wonder that a lot of us gleefully seek out information that confirms our beliefs, truth be damned.

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