Everyone can help stop the spread of fake news: Internet Scambusters #964
Almost 9 out of every 10 Americans admit to falling for a fake news story -- despite repeating warnings.
But the real concern is how easily people are willing to pass this information to others, to the point where some of them are being described as "superspreaders."
Whether or not you're a believer or spreader, you have an important role to play in guiding others away from the fake news trap, as we explain in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Help Stop Fake News Superspreaders
It sounds like a contradiction but it's true: Fake news has become a fact… of life. And, despite all the warnings and counterattacks, it's getting worse. People, either thoughtlessly or maliciously, are passing on bogus news and doctored photos at a record rate.
Technical experts are trying to create artificial intelligence (AI) formulas to detect and remove it. Meanwhile, organizations from political groups to academics are getting seriously worried.
Psychologists want to understand why we do fall for fake news and pass it to others. As with contagious diseases, security experts are starting to talk about misinformation "superspreaders" -- people who unhesitatingly post and forward messages to hundreds of other friends and online followers.
A massive 86 percent of us admit to falling for fake news at one time or another. And research shows that in any single year, around half of us believe in one or more conspiracy theories.
Yet, the vast majority of us -- 83 percent -- say they're worried about myths, misinformation, and fake news. We know from hard experience -- such as people swallowing unsafe "curatives" -- that it can be downright dangerous.
We also know that if a report or post aligns with our own opinions, we're more likely both to believe it (a tendency called "confirmation bias") and then to pass it on without question.
Social media sites take the crown for being the riskiest sources for the circulation of fake news and conspiracy theories because of the sheer number of people who use them. That's where the superspreaders lurk.
Even if you're not a fake news spreader yourself, you can play an important role in helping to stem the tide of misinformation. You'll almost certainly know of others who do forward fake reports and claims, maybe among family or friends.
Here are 5 tips for helping others who fall into the fake news trap from the freedom-of-expression organization PEN America:
- Try to check and verify something you suspect is fake news before engaging with people you know who are passing it around.
- Think carefully before commenting publicly on a fake item. It may help others, but it could also misfire by raising the visibility of the fake news or opening a damaging debate.
- Be sensitive to how spreaders might react. It can be embarrassing to be "caught out" passing. Try to imagine their perspective. Be positive and supportive when you open a discussion. Don't ridicule them.
- If they react badly or defensively, don't pursue or escalate the discussion. Explain how they can fact-check. And get in the habit of providing sources when you pass information to them.
- Try to help educate them. Pass on information and tips on spotting and avoiding fake news and let them know you're a resource -- available to help if they're uncertain whether something is true or not.
Improve Your Own Behavior
And here are a few more things you can do to improve your own understanding and behavior when dealing with potential fake news:
- Be honest. When you present or report on a topic, stick to known and checkable facts and, if you can, give the source. If you believe something to be true but can't verify it, make that clear when you relate it to someone else.
Research also shows that by presenting the true facts first, people are less likely to believe subsequent reports that say otherwise. This is known as "prebunking."
- Read the experts. Dozens of academic experts in the field have also produced a "Debunking Handbook" to help people avoid spreading misinformation. It's a bit scholarly, approaching the subject from a scientific and research perspective. But there are some useful tips -- and it's free! Download a pdf version here.
- Also check our previous Scambusters' reports on how to identify and avoid fake news and other related scams. Start here.
Alert of the Week
If you trade or are interested in cybercurrency, you'll almost certainly know how turbulent the market has been in recent weeks.
People have made and lost fortunes, but not just by following an investment strategy. Many have also been scammed.
According to new figures, scams involving Bitcoin and other virtual currencies have leapt 1,000 percent in the past year, costing Americans at least $80 million.
Alarmingly, the statistics show that young adults, in their 20s and 30s, have lost more from crypto scams than they have from any other type of fraud!
Don't join the tens of thousands of victims. Check out previous Scambusters reports on the topic. There's also a useful guide from Coinbase, one of the leading crypto trading exchanges, here: Avoiding Cryptocurrency Scams.
You have been warned!
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!