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Fake News

What is fake news? Why should you care? How can you avoid it? Find out all this and more, in the UVic Libraries Fake News Guide.

Generating viral fake news

Fake news can be deliberately created or the result of an error, mistake, or misinterpretation.

Deliberate fake news is created and posted with the intent of generating as much engagement as possible, usually to increase financial gain.

Non-deliberate fake news, misinformation mistakenly released by an individual or group to a wider audience, can spread just as rapidly and cause just as much damage.

How does fake news spread?

Advancing technology and growth in social media use contribute to the spread of fake news. In fact, research shows that false news often spreads faster than real news online. Regular users of social media are to blame for a lot of this spread, as they like, share, and otherwise engage with posts containing misinformation. See below for more on why we fall for fake news.

Online fake news can also be spread through bots. Ferrara et al.’s (2016) look at social bots describes a bot as “a computer algorithm that automatically produces content and interacts with humans on social media, trying to emulate and possibly alter their behavior.”

The novel challenge brought by bots is the fact they can give the false impression that some piece of information, regardless of its accuracy, is highly popular and endorsed by many, exerting an influence against which we haven’t yet developed antibodies. (pp. 98-99)

False news can spread through circular reporting, where one source publishes misinformation that is picked up by another news outlet, who cites the original source as evidence that the information is accurate. This continues as other news outlets report the misinformation and perpetuate the cycle.

Why do we fall for fake news?

 Why do people fall for fake news? Some factors may include:

  • Lack of deliberation: Individuals do not take the time and energy to deliberate over the accuracy of the news they are exposed to. A study by Bago, Rand, and Pennycook (2020) found that individuals were less likely to believe fake news when they were given the time and mental space to deliberate over the accuracy of different news headlines. This finding suggests that people fall for fake news online because they are encountering it as they scroll quickly through their newsfeeds.
  • Repeated exposure: A study by Pennycook, Cannon, and Rand (2018) shows that individuals are more likely to deem a false statement true the more times they are exposed to it. This may be because we recognize the information as familiar, but don’t necessarily remember where or in what context we encountered it before.
  • Novelty: Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral (2018) found that false news is often more novel than true news, and inspires strong emotions such as fear, disgust, and surprise. Novel information grabs our attention and gives us the impression that we are updating our knowledge of the world, thus serving to encourage its spread.

Local vs. nonlocal news

A Knight Foundation report from 2019 indicates that trust in local news is higher than for national news among Americans. In fact, in an experiment included in the report, people were more likely to trust a news article when they were told it was from a local newspaper than they were to trust the same article when they were told it was from a national newspaper. Survey respondents indicated their belief that local news is more likely than national news to, among other things, report the news without bias and get the facts right.

Canadians were also found in a 2019 Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association to have more trust in traditional news sources, such as broadcast TV, print newspapers, and news radio, than in talk radio, online-only news publications, and social media.

Unfortunately however, local journalism is declining and the number of fake local news sites is increasing. This means that people are forced to get their news from less trustworthy nonlocal sources or they are left to consume the biased, low quality information that is distributed by these faux news outlets.

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This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.