6 Cues to Tell Fake News on Social Media from Real News


Hiawatha Bray, the long-time Tech Lab columnist at the Boston Globe, has an interesting article about fake news. Entitled, “Can computers tell if an Internet news story is mostly true or mostly false,” Bray’s article notes these common features of fake news on the Internet:

  1. Lots of capitalized words or exclamation points.
  2. Use of words denote extreme certainty such as “absolutely” and “always.”
  3. Sentences that tend to be shorter and simpler. (Which makes them easier to read and forward.)
  4. Fewer “love” or “laughter” icon clicks on Facebook. (Real news doesn’t usually generate such emotion, apparently.)
  5. The media sites where these articles originated don’t have Wikipedia entries about them. 
  6. These sites, which may be similar to real news sites, have URLs that are long and filled with unusual characters. (Many reliable news sites are much cleaner.)
These are not all 100% accurate; after all the URL for the Globe’s article’s URL had a lot of unusual characters in it: https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2018/10/15/can-fake-news-goes-way-spam/UuiUfEmZGKxhMupoXV0AJM/story.html.
We can’t wait or rely on algorithms to determine fake news, just as algorithms aren’t 100% effective on spam. What we need is for people to take responsibility for what they share. This is important since new reports from the New York Times and others indicate that there will be more disinformation ahead of the midterms next month and ahead of the 2020 campaign. 
Disinformation campaigns at this level (perhaps any level) are anti-democratic, and we need all concerned citizens to take responsibility for what they share. So it’s important to be aware of the six indicators for possible fake news.
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