Getting ahead in the age of distraction
How do you spot fake news at a glance? Do we need to screen everything we read? We got up-close and personal with the journalists themselves to find out more.
What do you really know?
Google “fake news” and you’ll see some familiar names pop up: Trump, Trump and Trump. Indeed he’s Trump-ing it all.
But it really does not matter who ‘owns’ the fake news. The truth is, we as individuals need to be discerning. Even if a story gets shared a million times or reposted on a reputable news source, it doesn’t make it real. You, as a communicator, a purveyor of meaningful and truthful storytelling, need to get real when you pick out your daily read. Or when you share things on social.
I was recently at a session organized by PR Newswire where five speakers from the media and PR industries shared their expertise. The topic was The Latest PR trends and Tactics: Fake news, Big Data and pitching to international media. The speakers include: Everett Rosenfeld, Asia Pacific Editor at CNBC International; Lars Voedisch, Principal Consultant & Managing Director at PRecious Communications; Lena Goh, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at GovTech; Sujin Thomas, Deputy Editor at AsiaOne; and lastly, Rebecca Pazos, Interactive Graphics Journalist at The Straits Times.
I was especially there for Everett Rosenfeld’s and Sujin Thomas’ and session, What is fake news? Given that it’s such an increasingly trending topic, I wanted to know what the buzz was all about. Everett mentioned that 2016 was the year of ‘fake news’. I feel like 2017 will top it.
Here are my 3 top takeaways and my thoughts:
Fake news does not equal misinformation
Fake news is definitely not misinformation. It is deliberate attempts to spread misinformation via any form of media. And why is the fake news business so lucrative? Because we know provocative content spreads like wildfire. Viral content will offer the ‘publication’ more chance to make money so, why not?
It’s evident that print media is declining as online media continues to increase. Content can be easily shared and re-shared online. Stories travel across geographical boundaries and through different time zones. There’s no stopping the misinformation or the perpetrators. It’s easy to make it more clickbait-y because humans in general are fond of such stories. And so they sell.
Churnalism is a common source of fake news
Churnalism is not journalism. Think of it as a journalists deciding to copy-and-paste an entire press release as a news story. Those with malicious intent can ride the goodwill and laziness of journalists who run releases word-for-word.
Here in Singapore we have a number of publications that run articles without editing or fact-checking. It’s really not their fault: Time is always of the essence when it comes to pushing news out. If you’re the first to push the story, you get more click-through and more readers onboard. Potentially, this leads to more shares and engagements with the readers. And hey, we as communications professionals should always be selling the story, right?
I think it’s all about professional integrity. The downside is that there’s no watchdog to keep outlets and journos on the straight and narrow. PR agencies need to be honest about their stories; journalists need to do due diligence and verify their sources.
Deliberate errors can help to sell a fake news story
Though grammar and spelling errors are common in fake news, they can also be deliberate attempts to make a story more believable. At times, writers insert spelling errors knowingly to grab the attention of readers and somehow bring out a certain level of ‘real-ness’.
I quite like this line of thought. It just really confuses the reader to a point where you just do not know what’s real and what’s not anymore. It can be quite amusing to look back at all the news you’ve read and try and sieve out the fake ones. For all you know, you might just have shared a piece of fake news on Facebook and not realized it.
Hope is not lost
Therefore, it’s up to us to pick out fake news. Firstly, check the news source – credible or dubious? Also, if the story only ran in that publication, it’s highly likely that it’s fake news. Check several different reputable news sources to see if a similar story ran. If the story ‘raises both your eyebrows’, big chance that it’s fake!
So, the next time you read something, ask yourself, does it raise both your eyebrows? Subsequently, ask yourself why you are sharing this sort of thing, anyway? It probably already has millions of shares. My last tip here is to strike The Onion and New Nation off your list of news sources. Don’t ask me why.