Fake News? Here Are Three Things To Look Out For

Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

Hurricane Florence has made landfall in North Carolina, Cameroon’s Presidential polls open next month, and US-North Korea relations may be heating back up. It is more pertinent than ever to be able to sift through a daily bombardment of information online to find news worthy of your attention; it is even harder to tell which of it is true. 

Only fools rush in. Here are three things to look out for if you’re not sure what you’re reading really is “fake news”. 

1. Fake Profiles

Following any major news event, particularly tragedies, photo collages are becoming de rigueur across all social media platforms as a means to draw attention to possibly missing persons. They are usually accompanied by comments like “spread the word” and “share to help find these people”. 

Many of these, however, are fake: created by people looking for social media engagement and shared, typically, by well-meaning people hoping to help. An example of this is 12-year-old Australian student, included in a collage of victims following the Manchester Ariana Grande concert bombing in the UK. She was safe, and in school, at the time of the bombing, and was quick to debunk the collage post. 

Criminals can also have a fake profile shared. Following the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, tensions were running high as the national gun debate was revived for another year. The suspect, who had killed ten people and injured another ten, was eventually identified, and fake Facebook profiles with his name and photo were created across the world.

2. Wrong place, wrong time

The internet seems to grow exponentially with each passing second, with content added and uploaded in increasing volumes by the year. Over time, this means the internet has grown into a strange database of photos and videos, often uploaded and shared with barely any context or obvious time stamp. 

This leaves much content open to interpretation- and misuse. A Visual Social Media Lab study found that more than a third of “problematic” photos online are actually real photos, just presented out of context. 

During the Thai cave rescue operation earlier this year, for example, a film clip of a cave diver swimming through the twists and turns of a narrow cave passage was shared widely on social media, with posts claiming to be showing rescue divers. The actual origin of the footage, however, was a cave dive in Wisconsin- in 2012. 

3. Photo, audio and video manipulation

This last one should be an obvious one, but with the rapid-fire evolution of editing technologies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern between true and false. Gone are the days of grainy images of the Loch Ness Monster, or “is that just a man in a suit” glimpses of Bigfoot. Today, video, sound and image manipulation is reaching new levels, opening a whole new world of confusion with “deep fakes”. 

Most fake news is generated by users seeking clicks and shares, with accuracy as a last consideration. If you see something you’re not sure about, try searching for exact keywords in the story. Someone may have already debunked it. Most importantly, be critical, and choose your news sources carefully. 

RONN TOROSSIAN, 2018 VISITING ISRAELAbout the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR firm.