Don’t Get Fooled Again: Foiling Fake Facebook News

By Tim Hurley

A year or two ago my 18-year-old son and his school friends created something they call “The Daily Fake.” It’s a rather humorous “Inside Baseball”-type like look at things they consider to be unusual, strange, unacceptable, not credible or for a lack of a better term, not worthy, according to them – the ultimate arbiters of all things genuine, at least in their humble collective opinion. Harmless and humorous, it is the stuff that high school and college kids do to sometimes pass the time and share a few laughs.

But “The Daily Fake” could also refer to the recent phenomenon sweeping social media and, in some cases, blurring the line between truth and fiction as it relates to something very real: the news media.

Fake Facebook News has recently become a topic of great interest having emerged as a serious threat to legitimate media outlets (as if they need another challenge) mainly because many believe it is preying on the uniformed and quite likely, swaying public opinion on some rather significant public matters.

Don’t believe the hype from a guy who makes his living trying to influence legitimate media outlets?

Then check out this Nov. 16 BuzzFeed piece that claims – based on its analysis of web traffic – during the final three months of the US presidential campaign, that the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than top stories from the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others. Say what you want about BuzzFeed – and I have my own opinions about the site and its journalistic cred – which is reinforced by this Pew Research Study published on Business Pew ranked BuzzFeed dead last among about the most trusted news sites.  But if BuzzFeed’s numbers are even close, then Palo Alto, We Have a Problem.

So what is Fake Facebook News and what is Mark Zuckerberg doing about it? It is pure fiction, well beyond anything you see on The Onion, presented as real news with photos, captions and quotes. Yet it is showing up Google News and other aggregators as legit. And it is also apparently a rather effective money generator for anyone with an imagination and an internet connection.

Here’s a look at Zuck’s plan to combat Fake Facebook and a recode article from the weekend with some analysis (real). Zuck’s not buying the claim that Fake Facebook News influenced the election, but he’s concerned enough to map out a preliminary plan to combat it.

For a rather scary look at how fake news is created and goes viral, check out this New York Times piece.

And finally, my advice for avoiding getting conned by Fake Facebook: use common sense and buy a good old fashioned newspaper!