As much as we don't like to admit it, we've probably have all spread fake news and false information via social media.
But it's Not Like This is Anything New
Despite what the comedic, political satire comic "The Birth of Fake News" might have said, the press hasn't been the best source of information for the past 600 years. Fake news and the spread of false information in order to get readers to buy your paper has been a strategy for a very long time. The term "Yellow Journalism" was coined back in the 1890s. This term was a sweeping generalization of news that was not well-researched (if at all), and spread to make the headlines sell papers. However, this was still a problem back in the 1400s.
According to Politico Magazine, back in 1400s there were similar problems. There was a lack of journalistic ethics causing fake stories to pass in the newly-invented press and spread to the neighboring towns reading.
Fake news might be seen as more of an epidemic these days for the mere fact along that it can take minutes for false information to go viral.
The fact of the matter is -- fakes news will always be there. False information will always be sprinkled about (if not completely obvious) in our media. We have to be responsible. We have to not share things that are not factual, especially when it comes to scientific discoveries or facts. It can be easy to retweet something right off the back. Something that makes it look like we're correct on some side of whatever debate we happen to be on.
But how can you stop the spreading?
1. Recognize You're Not Infallible Yourself
We have to face the facts -- we're probably going to spread something false. Even if we go into it with the best intentions, it's easy to spread something, and that can catch fire quickly. If this happens, and you recognize it, just apologize. Perhaps delete the post (though that won't always rid of the problem depending on how far it spread), but do so with an apology. You'll look more reliable if you admit your wrongdoing rather than just sweeping the evidence underneath the rug. A lot of times, people will find what dust you left behind if you try to hide it.
2. Recognize That Science Journals Aren't Always Accurate
A journalist scammed the media into spreading the false information that chocolate was good for you. He did this by submitting a fake scientific study to a scientific journal. He has a Ph.D, and new exactly what he was doing as he created a junk article that was intended to catch fire and destroy everything in its pathway. When Dr.Bohannon came out and said the study was false, he said: "You have to know how to read a scientific paper — and actually bother to do it. For far too long, the people who cover this beat have treated it like gossip, echoing whatever they find in press releases. Hopefully our little experiment will make reporters and readers alike more skeptical."
3. Don't Hit the Retweet Button Until You're As Sure as You Can Be
Do your own research before you spread any information. Especially if you're not an expert in the field yourself. Create a check list of what to look out for before retweeting that article.
- Does the article come from a reliable news source? One that's proven itself to be so?
- Does the article have sources linked or written beneath it?
- Do those sources come from reliable places?
- Has there been conflicting articles or evidence? What did those have to say?
4. Be as Unbiased as Humanly Possible
This is probably the hardest one. Science has become a very polarized place, and it has mingled with politics whether you think it should have or not. Because of this, sides have been created. As a result, we have to be as careful as possible to not let our emotions get involved. When emotions get involved, they can take over logic without much of a fight. Since that is the case, everything else we talked about in this article wouldn't even matter; we got too far ahead of ourselves. We felt so passionately, we already spread the false information.
You can't stop the spreading of fake news, but you can be more responsible yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM. Find her on Twitter.