Not all fake news is the same. To paraphrase George Orwell, some news is more fake than others.
So how do you tell the difference? Here's my quick guide to the five types of fake news you may see in your everyday life:
1. 100% False. Pope Francis is dead. So is Paul McCartney. At least they were -- if you believed what you saw on social media. The Pope and Sir Paul are just a few of the celebrities whose deaths have been falsely reported online. But even with "RIP Paul McCartney" trending on Twitter, anyone standing next to him would have been able to see that he was clearly still alive.
2. Slanted and Biased. The Washington Times recently published their list of fake news stories -- including the "fake" story that "Climate change will produce more storms like Hurricane Katrina." While it's (thankfully) true that no storm since has matched Katrina's devastation, the Times seems to use this fact as leverage to discount the reality of climate change. Just because A. climate change can lead to major hurricanes and B. there haven't been major hurricanes doesn't mean that C. climate change isn't real.
3. Pure Propaganda. The Washington Post recently reported on a "sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online" during the election campaign. While the accusations are still flying back and forth, it's fair to say that some fake news appears specifically designed to influence the reader's opinion in a certain direction.
4. Misusing the Data."Have a Beer, It's Good for Your Brain," reported Inc. But you should wait a minute before you grab a pint (or two). The study was done on mice -- not people. And the amount of beer was the equivalent of 28 kegs in humans. This is a great example of how the media often misinterprets research, offering up eye-catching findings that don't really apply to you, and often aren't supported by the science.
5. Imprecise and Sloppy. "1 in 5 CEOs are Psychopaths, Study Finds." This headline from The Guardian caught my eye, since I am a CEO (and I'm not a psychopath). But the headline is wrong. The research was based on a survey of professionals in the supply chain industry, not CEOs. A headline about supply chain professionals may not be as sexy, but talking about CEOs gives ppeople the wrong impression.
Unless you swear off social media and the Internet, you probably can't avoid fake news. No media organization is immune, although some are better than others. But it's a lot easier to spot it when you understand the different types of fake news you're likely to encounter.
This blog post is collaboration with my Everydata co-author Mike Gluck.
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