Did you know false news spreads faster than factual news?

News plays a huge role in society. Through informative articles, society can keep up to date with the latest breaking stories, happenings and trends.

However, unlike previous generations, modern society no longer needs to rely on newspapers or magazines to keep them up to date. Social media offers readers instant access to information. You just need to go onto Facebook or Twitter, and the news is a click away.

Also read: 6 signs you are addicted to social media

But, just how much truth lies within the news articles you read online? Did you know fake news is more prevalent than you imagine?

Newcastillian, false

Here are two examples of fake news articles that captured people’s attention:

LGBT to add paedophiles under their umbrella

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement is often judged because of its members’ lifestyles. However, the organisation does its best to combat discrimination against people’s sexual orientation.

In December 2017, the group fell victim to fake news reports.

An article claimed the movement was adding the letter P to their name. What’s wrong with that? Well the P stands for Pedosexual, which is a sexual attraction to children. In other words, a paedophile. The hoax was given credibility with the Film and Publication Board (FBP) of South Africa sharing the fake article via twitter.

While the FBP apologised shortly afterwards, the damage was done. Despite the article being acknowledged as a smear campaign against the LGBT community, many people believed it and were outraged at the movement.

Read the apology here: Film and Publication apologises unreservedly for sharing fake news

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu dies

In May this year, a news article went viral that iconic Archbishop Tutu died. Known for his role in fighting for a democratic South Africa, thousands of people voiced their sadness.

It was therefore very surprising when Archbishop Tutu spoke to the media. Very much alive, he and his family denied his death.

But luckily fake news doesn’t spread that quickly, or does it?

A study conducted by researchers based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) proved false news spreads much quicker than real news. In fact, researchers claim false news, especially that pertaining to politics, spreads 70 per cent faster than factual news.

The researchers conducted their study by going through a 10-year period of Twitter’s history, sifting through 126 000 stories which were shared by 3 million users over some 4.5 million times.  Several verification methods were used to determine what was considered true and what was false.

Through careful research, the academics made their discovery. One of the reasons is that fake news spreads faster is because of how novel information is. Automated bots share both factual and false news at an even rate, while people react on emotion and share the information. Because fake news focuses on people’s emotions, it spreads much faster.

While there are scores of fake articles doing thier rounds, how do you distinguish factual news and disinformation? Here is how you can tell the difference between fake news and real news:

  • If the headline seems a tad outlandish or unrealistic, then it is most likely fake news.
  • Check the publications other articles. If these articles seem incredulous (doubtful), then you might be reading fake news.
  • If reputable news agencies aren’t carrying the said story, then it is most likely hogwash.
  • Whenever there is a prediction of a future disaster in the article, you are most likely perusing disinformation.
  • The story seems just too interesting or a bit on the humorous side. While there is interesting and somewhat funny stories, bizarre news is normally for the tabloids.
  • The website reporting on the news has a rather unusual domain name. Not many readers take note of a domain name when they see a headline saying Vin Diesel died after diving into a portable pool. Some fake news sites will try to imitate reputable news sites, so check the spelling or the layout of the domain.

As false news tends to spread like wildfire, be sure you check on reputable sites (like the Newcastillian) before sharing a news post that might just be fake.

As tensions grow in SA, people are sharing ridiculous amounts of propaganda, fake news and so forth. Be sure to pay attention to what you share, as once you have shared it, it is your name attached to that “news”.

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