The danger of false articles on social media

by Ellise Shafer, ’17

Recent events in response to fake news have made it more important than ever to not believe everything that pops up on your Twitter timeline.

On Dec. 5 of 2016, Edgar Welch opened fire from an AR-15 rifle in Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant located in Washington, D.C. It was then reported by The New York Times that Welch had read on Facebook and Reddit that the restaurant was home to a child pornography ring led by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

After reading about the conspiracy, Welch drove from his home state of North Carolina to D.C. in hopes of stopping the ring, referred to as “PizzaGate” in the article. However, he was instead arrested and later detained by police.

This incident, among others that have occurred in this past year, are a reminder of just how dangerous social media can be when it comes to the spreading of false information.

But how does this false news arise? Surprisingly enough—or not—a lot of it has to do with politics. A major source of false news has been often teenaged residents in Macedonia, who according to Buzzfeed News have created over 140 pro-Trump websites during the election cycle. These websites spread fake news and due to ad revenue, make these teens rich. For a similar purpose, young American entrepreneurs have been doing the same thing in the U.S., says The New York Times.

So, while some are bringing in the big bucks over this, how can average Joes steer clear of such falsities? Librarian Judy Deal had a few pointers to keep UAHS students safe.

“Telling signs [of fake news] are if it’s almost too sensationalist, if it’s almost too good to be true or if it’s a little too shocking,” Deal said. “Although we tend to think ‘oh, that’s great’ or ‘oh, that’s juicy, I’m going to look at it’ [when seeing these articles], you have to have a healthy dose of common sense.”

Deal believes that the spreading of fake news just goes to show how unreliable social media is as a news source, especially for young people.

“I think it’s an easy trap because anybody can contribute to social media and if you think of actual news outlets such as the networks or CNN or MSNBC, it’s journalists writing for them,” Deal said. “They have a code of ethics and are therefore obligated to fact-check and that’s not necessarily true on social media.”

To avoid fake news altogether, Deal suggests getting information exclusively from reliable news sources, and checking twice before believing or further spreading a story on social media.