Every. Single. Day.
That’s how often I see fake “news” shared on social media as fact.
Sometimes, it is every. single. hour.
Research has shown it happens a bazillion times a day. (That figure may be exaggerated, but not by much.)
Why is it so easy? Why do most of us get caught at least periodically by an completely bogus story? It happened to me last week, and I am as much on the alert as anyone.
It’s easy to get people to believe fake news when it supports something they already believe, they receive it from a person they believe trustworthy, or they see it on a website they consider authoritative.
Get people to believe fake “news”
First, grab an image that reinforces some fear, bias, presupposition, question, concern or conspiracy.
A narrative of recent weeks is that ISIS is hiding thousands of fighters amid the rush of refugees leaving Syria. (See story here [350k social media shares], here [41.5k shares], here [18k shares]. Note all the stories are essentially the same, based on the Express report.
As an aside, it is interesting if nothing else that people who will not believe tens of thousands of Syrians who say “We are fleeing the war” will believe a single, unnamed, unidentified “Syrian ISIS operative” who claims ISIS has placed agents all over Europe ready for orders.
Following this narrative of ISIS fighters all over Europe came headlines like these:
Here’s the problem: the story isn’t true and the photo is from another time.
The photo is real enough, but it’s from three years ago, and not at all related to Syrian refugees. Here’s the photo as part of a story from May 6, 2012.
Since the narrative of ISIS fighters sneaking into Germany is powerful, it is easy for someone to pull a photo from online and create a story around it. A story that happens not to be true.
Second, post concerns to social media with a comment that plays on people’s fears, biases, presuppositions, etc. Be sure to use open ended, arresting questions or comments.
Yesterday Dan Adams posted to his Facebook page a series of photos–hulking men, clearly bodybuilders. Either of them could break me in half with one hand whilst enjoying tea and crumpets with the other. The post was entitled “Starving Muslim Refugees???” The narrative being, again, the refugees from Syria are not fleeing war, but preparing to take over Europe and the West.
These guys look scary? Do they look menacing? Do they look like any ISIS fighter you have ever seen? (Yes to the first two, no to the third.) Is this the ISIS production line for the Anti-Captain America? Will the next Avengers movie be set on the Greece-Macedonia border?
None of the above, though the Captain America narrative would be interesting.
These photos are “asylum seekers” from Iran landing in Australia c. 2013. (I have not vetted the full story, but the pictures shared by Adams are from this period, therefore not related to Syrian refugees.)
Why have more than 5,700 people shared this outright fabrication since Adams published it Friday? Because it reinforces what they already believe: ISIS fighters are making their way into Europe. From the looks of these fellas 4,000 would be far too many to send; four ought to do it.
Three, use a heartfelt story–especially patriotic–and, if possible, connect it to a perceived enemy (Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, et al). Use a graphic like this one whenever possible, sans the Facebook admonition.
Doesn’t that rather make you angry? Is your heart revved and “God Bless America” on repeat in your brain? Or “God Save the Queen”?
That’s how it happens.
But, here’s the full graphic.
That’s right. The graphic was created intentionally to teach us how easy it is to put fake information online, and how easy it is to believe it.
If you are interested in some of the dynamics behind these kinds of stories you should check out my podcast, The Fourth Estate. You can also listen from this blog via the link in the menu bar above.
Whether you listen to the podcast or not, I encourage you to vet as many stories as possible before sharing them. Cross check with local media outlets or media sources from the country of origin. It’s easy to imply much that cannot be proven. Do not fall for it. Find the truth.
Read another example here, “An ‘aid’ container full of weapons was intended for Syrian refugees?”
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