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The good, the bad and the totally
What exactly is ‘fake news’?
• “false, often sensational, information disseminated under
the guise of news reporting” Collins English Dictionary
Reporters with various forms of ‘fake news’ from a 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper
Fake news has been around for a very long
• Easter 1475, A Franciscan preacher gave a series of sermons
claiming the Jewish community had murdered a child and drained
his blood to celebrate Passover. The entire community was
arrested and 15 were found guilty and burned at the stake. This is
part of the foundation for anti-Semitism.
• An entire series of fake news pamphlets were produced after the
Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to claim that survivors owed their lives
to an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
• Benjamin Franklin created propaganda stories that Native
Americans were working with the British and scalping American
Reasons for fake news or ‘alternative facts’
• The more outrageous the story, the more likely people are to click on
it, visit a website and click on an advert, making money for the site
Sorry, how much?
• Robert Shooltz makes $1,000 a month with Real News Right Now
• Paris Wade and Ben Goldman made up to $40,000 per month with
LibertyWriters.com in the runup to the 2016 US presidential
• Cameron Harris, a grad student looking to pay back his student
loans made $1,000 an hour from his ChristianTimesNewspaper site.
• ‘Dimitri’ from Macedonia earned $60,000 in 6 months by creating
hundreds of fake news websites
• For political, religious or economic reasons
• Parody and satire
• ‘The Onion’ “Internet crashes as billions of people go online to purchase
The Onion’s latest book ‘The Trump Leaks’.
• To confirm and publicise a bias or believe regardless of the facts
• Flat earthers, Moon landing hoax
• To infect the computer with malware
• To increase social media presence
How to spot fake news
• What is the date on the item?
• All articles just lead back to one resource
• Does the news report come from a satirical site?
• Check all of the details – even the tiniest
• Check the image! Is it real, incorrectly attributed or
• Where in the world has this happened?
• The story originated in August 2011 and was about cash
transactions for metal in order to deter metal thieves.
• Revised legislation in June 2012 amended this law
United Airlines shares fall on false report of
• September 2008 $1 billion in value of shares was wiped from
United Airlines stock
• Shares fell to $3 from more than $12 in less than an hour
• Trading was then halted for the day to work out what was going on
•So what happened?
• 2002-2006 UA operated under bankruptcy protection
• A reporter for Income Securities Advisers found an old article on
the Chicago Tribune, with a fresh date, next to an article about a
current hurricane warning
• The reporter included the link in a summary of bankruptcy items
posted to the ISA site.
• This was picked up by Bloomberg
• They sent out a news headline referring to the article
The history continued
• Then as a result millions of shares changed hands; more than 54
million in fact
• Market was halted at 11.08am
• ISA removed the item from their summary on Bloomberg and
issued a correction
• Bloomberg did the same
All articles just lead back to one resource
• Jasmine Tridevil underwent cosmetic surgery to add a third breast
Let’s pick this apart
• JasmineTridevil.com registered to Alisha Hessler, a Tampa Florida
• Tridevil agreed to an interview with a local radio station to discuss
her self produced reality show
• Her Facebook page and YouTube account were the primary sources
Does the news report come from a satirical
• These sites are not obvious, and they do look official
• They write stories that are designed to look accurate in order to
get visits to sell advertising
Check all of the details – even the tiniest
• washingtonpost.com.co is not the same as washingtonpost.com
• Who wrote the article?
• When was it written?
• Try a related: search for the site on Google
• Try a link: search for the site on Google
Cure for cancer? Really?
Many people have cured their newly
diagnosed cancer by using a very healthy
diet and drinking a quart of carrot juice
(with a little beet juice mixed in) every
day. That is all they did.
In fact, if all cancer patients did that
instead of using chemotherapy, radiation
and surgery, the “cure rate” for cancer in
America would jump dramatically.
Not just search engines!
Facebook admitted Monday that its system automatically
promoted stories that falsely identified the shooter in the Las
The social network said links from websites such as The Gateway
Pundit and others were posted and spread across their site Sunday
The stories claimed the shooter was an “anti-Trump” Democrat
and displayed pictures of a man who is not identified as a suspect.
In a statement, Facebook said, “We are working to fix the issue
that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret
the confusion this caused.”
What are search engines and Facebook trying
• The Trust Project
• An international consortium of news organisations collaborating to build a
more trustworthy and trusted press
• Search engines like Google and social media platforms are participating as
Facebook is rolling out ‘Related Articles’ that
appear below news links to stories that lots of
people are posting about or are suspected of
being false news.
• Google/Facebook shift the blame to algorithms when this happens
• BUT Google/Facebook write those same algorithms, making them
responsible for what they publish.
• CNN’s Jonathon Morgan stated that the algorithms are often
designed to “show attention grabbing, influential content to
exactly the people most likely to be manipulated by it”
• Danny Sullivan (Google’s public relations staffer for search) said
• “We weren’t happy that those tweets… were showing up that way. We may
need to make some changes here. For whatever reason those are getting
there, it wasn’t by intent, it wasn’t by design and it wasn’t something
we’re striving to keep.”
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet
• “Let’s say that this group believes Fact A and this group believes Fact B
and you passionately disagree with each other and you are all publishing
and writing about it and so forth and so on…”
•“It is very difficult for us to
• Halifax International Security Forum November 2017
It’s going to get even harder…
• Fact check (esp. for US politics) http://www.factcheck.org/
• Hoax Slayer http://www.hoax-slayer.com/
• Who what when (graphic time lines)
• Claimbuster automated live fact checking http://idir-
• Poynter http://www.poynter.org/category/fact-checking/
• Verification handbook http://verificationhandbook.com/
More useful stuff
• Markham Nolan: How to separate fact and fiction online
• Full fact (UK) https://fullfact.org/
• Emergent a real time rumour tracker http://www.emergent.info/
• Is Twitter wrong? Twitter account https://twitter.com/IsTwitWrong
• PicPedant https://twitter.com/PicPedant
• Journalists resource http://journalistsresource.org/tip-