Northern NV social buzz: Spotting ‘fake news’ vital for businesses
RENO, Nev. — The conversation around “fake news” has been circulating for more than a year, but there still is uncertainty in how to determine whether the source of an online post on any platform is actually legitimate … or even what fake news actually is.
Politifact defines fake news as, “made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word.”
This isn’t just important for individuals to know.
Now, more than ever, businesses must own their brand online and be part of the daily digital conversation to connect with customers and grow their business. Being “part of the daily digital conversation” ideally is a mix of posting organic content (that you create), engaging with users either messaging you or commenting on your posts, and sharing content from other sources that is relevant to your target audience.
It’s that last part where the threat of spreading fake news becomes real because it only takes one misguided post, retweet or share to tarnish your online credibility and branding. Both business owners and employees need to be aware of the risk — and how to guard against it.
Here are some tips, courtesy of Facebook, Harvard University and BBC News.
Who’s the source?
To begin, check out the URL of article, Facebook says. Many fake news sites will mimic the look and even URL of a legitimate site by making tiny changes to the address, such as adding “.co” to the end of it. For example, abcnews.com is legitimate, but abcnews.com.co would not be.
You can look deeper into an unfamiliar organization by clicking on the site’s “About” or “About Us” section to learn more about them. Hint: There should be clean spelling and grammar on that webpage at the very least. Of course, this would be a good time to think about whether the entire site is satirical in nature as well.
Being aware of who the author of the article is would also be a giveaway. Who is the author? Has this person published anything else? Harvard University says you should be suspicious if the byline is “a celebrity writing for a little-known site or if the author’s contact information is a G-mail address.”
Examine the article
Let’s start with the headline. According to Facebook, false news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points.
“If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are,” Facebook says.
When it comes to the story, look out for unusual formatting. (Remember that tip on misspellings and bad grammar? It applies here, too.)
And, finally, the photos. Fake news often features manipulated images or videos. Even if a photo is authentic, it might have been taken out of context. A reverse image search in Google will help you verify one way or the other.
What’s the evidence?
You’ll always want to check the author’s own sources to verify whether they are accurate or not.
For example, look for who is (or more importantly, who is not) quoted. Quotes themselves can be searched independently in any search engine, but credible journalism, as Harvard says, is “fed by fact-gathering, so a lack of research likely means a lack of fact-based information.” In other words, question any story lacking quotes or searchable citations.
Even data sources and data itself can be misleading.
“Make sure you know whose figures are being reported,” BBC News says.
Have you heard of the organization? What’s their agenda? You might have to do a little Googling here.
Pay attention to the dates mentioned in a story as well.
“False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered,” Facebook says.
You also could see an older story recycled and taken out of context — the dates should be a red flag of that.
And finally, is any other news source reporting the same story? If not, this could be a warning. Often, fake news sites will state that “you won’t hear this from the mainstream media,” but this usually is a ploy to legitimize themselves.
There are fake news sites on both the left side of the spectrum and the right. If no one else is talking about it, be aware.
Still not sure?
You always can visit a fact-checking website! Some recommendations from Harvard: FactCheck.org, International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), PolitiFact.com, or Snopes.com.
Also, just scroll down. On Facebook, the easiest way to check if a story is true or false is usually to read the comments on the post. If a story is false, it’s likely a user has already called it out as fake. Just make sure they’re serious comments … and not ironic jokes.
Of course, if you spot a post that appears to be a fake news story on Facebook specifically, you can report it as such. You’ll see three dots in the corner of the post. Click that, and then click “Report post.” There will be an option to report it as a fake news story.
The most important thing when seeing fake news posts is not to spread them — whether to your personal network or to your business’s social audience. That’s the entire motive behind them.
Take that one extra moment to question the information and the source, and you’ll maintain your brand’s credibility online.
Looking for more guidance when it comes to sharing legitimate online content or social media in general? Contact my colleague, Brook Bentley, social media and content manager at Sierra Nevada Media Group, at email@example.com for a free social media consultation for your business.
Caren Roblin is Director of Content at Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PBS Reno, formerly known as KNPB Public Television, has served Northern/Central Nevada and Northeastern California since 1983.