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How to ‘Unfriend’ fake news

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As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to reevaluate the way we consume news in the United States. It has been a trying year for objective journalism to say the least, and in many cases, stories have crossed the line from sensational to blatantly false.

The fake news epidemic that has swept across social media platforms such as Facebook in the wake of the polarizing election cycle is an opportunistic scheme. Casting aside journalistic procedures, fake news sites publish articles that feed off of readers’ fear and anger to achieve viral status.

According to a study conducted by Buzzfeed, the top, fabricated political stories on Facebook amassed more reactions, comments, and shares than top stories from reputable news sources during the same time frame. This means viral fake articles such as “Clinton Emails Linked to Political Pedophile Sex Ring” likely received more face time with social media users than factual articles aimed at educating voters.

Unfortunately, such misinformation defined the election, reinforcing preconceived notions in the partisan echo chambers of social media and contributing to the post-truth nature of the year.

At a recent press conference, President Obama addressed the issue.

“If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” Obama said.

The problems are hard to ignore.

There’s no way of telling how much false reporting influenced the election, but with Americans simultaneously doubting the media and sharing fake news at a record rate, it is apparent that action must be taken to preserve the institution of journalism.

As it is, fake news is a highly profitable enterprise, and it is a long way from disappearing on its own. If this erroneous news is to be eradicated, much of the heavy lifting will fall to the nation’s social media users themselves.

If every-day social networkers take several precautions before hitting the share button, fake news will be exposed as the simple clickbait that it is.

First of all, a story should never be shared based on a sensational headline alone. Take pride in your newsfeed. If you want to put a story into the world with your name attached to it, the least you can do is actually read it to evaluate its content.

If an article seems one-sided, pushing a specific agenda without providing counterpoints, it is more than likely fake news or at the very least a biased source.

In addition, much can be told by looking carefully at a news organization’s website. Does every story have a sensational headline? Is the “About Us” section overblown with accolades? Does it identify itself as satire? Any of these signs point towards a less than trustworthy source.

Even familiar logos and names can be misleading. Whereas abcnews.com is a reliable journalistic source, abcnews.com.co is a fake news propogator. The proof is in the details.

Finally, if an article can be proven false, it should be reported as such. On Facebook, a feature allows users to block links and report them specifically as fake news.  If enough dedicated individuals take the time to weed out propaganda, social media sites can gather the information they need to rid their platforms of falsity.

2016 has threatened to undermine real journalism with its lies and hyperbole.  In 2017, let’s take back the truth.

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