The fake news phenomena really interests me. And with hindsight, I don’t know why it’s only become a mainstream issue in the past couple of years.
After all, everyone can be a publisher these days. And most of us are. Billions of people have social network accounts and hundreds of millions of us have blogs too. In other words, we’re all equipped to spread whatever information or misinformation we choose.
I was thinking about this recently, when my friend told me about the challenge he had, helping his daughter with some school work. He explained that time and again, it was easier to find low quality “content” than expertly-crafted articles. For instance, Google regularly ranks Pinterest posts above museum articles, when you’re looking for a reliable source of historic information.
Technology certainly has a huge role to play. And the tech companies who have profited mightily from fake news need to start taking it seriously, rather than offering platitudes.
But I don’t think technology is the answer by itself.
Ultimately, the solution to the fake news problem has to be education. More specifically, education on how to discern between reliable / credible sources and those that are not. There needs to be a clear message, that just because an article is ranked highly on Google, or a Facebook post has a ton of likes, it doesn’t mean the source is credible (or the information is reliable).
We’re part of the problem
That’s because search engines, social networks and our friends can’t be fooled without our help.
- When we link to a fake news story, it’s (almost) like voting for it. Each link sends Google and the other search engines a signal. And the more links a story gets, the higher it will rank in search results.
- When we like or share a Facebook post, (or retweet something) we give it added visibility and increase it’s social proof.
Thankfully, this also means we can become part of the solution. We can choose to ensure we check the source of information, before we link to it or share it.
And we can ask our friends to do the same. Like I just did.