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Hack the System!: Combating Fake News!

Posted on November 18th, 2016 by adowds in News, Technology, Teen Services

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Post-election anxieties are pretty heightened right about now, and election results have left many people asking, How?!? Why?!? What?!? Fingers are being pointed in many directions, but one culprit taking the lead is “fake news”. So much so, some “fake news” bloggers are actually claiming partial responsibility for the election of Donald Trump.

 

“Fake news” is a form of news satire. Content is presented in a format typical of mainstream journalism, but the actual content is anything but real and often pokes fun at current events. Fake news stories pop up everywhere on social media sites, and receive almost immediate attention, likes, shares, and reactions from users due to its sensationalized material. According to BuzzFeed News Analyst Craig Silverman, “the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News…”. Silverman used a tool called BuzzSumo to compare the way the public engaged or interacted with traditional news stories vs fake news stories that peddled false claims during the final three months of the US presidential campaign. He found that the 20 top performing “fake news” stories received 8.7 million shares, reactions, likes, etc. on Facebook while the 20 top performing new stories from reputable publications received 7.3 million.

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Does this mean that fake news won the election for Donald Trump? Most likely not. But it does mean that people either are not as media savvy as we hoped or, we tend to trust almost anything once it is posted online — no questions asked. While companies such as Facebook and Google have amped up their abilities to block ad monies that promote fake news and hoax stories, two individuals have created extensions for Chrome to help people circumvent untrustworthy new sites by warning them when they are visiting sites or reading material that is known to be misleading, satirical, or a hoax.

 

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First, Daniel Sieradski created the “B.S. Detector” on Tuesday, November 15th for Chrome browsers only. This extension will identify and flag articles from questionable resources while users are browsing Facebook.  Sieradski’s invention relies on a pre-generated list of well-known fake news sites created by Melissa Zimdars, a communication and media professor from Merrimack College in Massachusetts. Users may submit requests to update and change this list.

 

 

 

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The second extension, Fake News Alert, was created by New York magazine journalist Brian Feldman and was released Thursday, November 17th. If a user attempts to visit a known hoax site, a pop-up or banner appears to alert users. Feldman also uses Zimdars’ preexisting list of fake news sites to assist people who may not be media savvy or have been foiled hook, line, and sinker into reading and believing one of these articles.

 

These latest creations may diminish the outpouring of misinformation, but they also have a few downsides. First, they can only be used on Chrome browsers. Second, it is up to the user to proactively download the tool. And most notably, these extensions only work on the specific website domain, which means users must actually click on the website link in order to receive an alert. According to Feldman, preemptive alerts that flag articles before they are opened or read would require a more sophisticated version of his Fake News Alert Chrome extension. And similar to any antivirus software, new hoax sites can be created that aren’t in the extension’s database.

 

The good news — Both of these tools were created in about an hour and their inventors admit they are pretty bare bones. There is plenty of room for tinkering and improvement, which means there is ample opportunity for you all to hack the system and build your own app, fight against fake news, and enable people to place more trust in what they are reading!

 

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Want to create your own technology life hack? Stop by Teen Central during Open Lab time.

“Hack the System!” features examples of technology life hacks created by Ally, the Youth Technology Librarian at Teen Central. Check back on the third Friday of each month for her latest post.