Fake news stories have been around for decades. However, some people are on the brink of taking real action based on fake news. As people wait for the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting case, the public’s view is inundated with blatant lies and rumors.
August 9, in Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed teen Michael Brown. However, it is unclear as to the circumstances that led up to the fatal shooting. Ferguson police said moments before the shooting, Brown and Wilson had a physical altercation, and Wilson was injured in the scuffle.
Many people wanted to know why the media did not show a picture of Darren Wilson’s injuries. Not long ago, a photo claiming to be that of officer Wilson with a serious injury to his right eye was shared on the internet.
It just so happens, the photo is not of any police officer; it is actually a photo that was taken in 2006 of deceased motocross rider Jim McNeil.
The Huffington Post reported Chicago firefighter Kevin O’Grady shared on Facebook a photo he claimed to be of injured Wilson in the hospital after the episode. Even though the photo was not that of Wilson, it went viral. The picture was that of Jim McNeil, who died in a crash while practicing at the Texas Motor Speedway in 2011. The photo claiming to be Wilson is actually a photo of McNeil at a friend’s house after an accident he had in 2006.
Another example of fake news shows the following headline. You might have seen this.
“George Zimmerman Arrested While Visiting Ferguson”
It never happened. Nonetheless, it spread like wildfire on the internet, and people shared it with their family and friends, adding more fuel to the fire. Even though the fake news about Zimmerman was fabricated, the story had over half-a-million shares on Facebook, and 35,000 “likes.” Not counting the tweets, re-tweets, and re-shares on Facebook and emails.
Barbara Mikkelson, co-founder of Snopes.com, says fake news is not new. Mikkelson has spent over 20 years researching, and debunking, urban legends.
When KSDK spoke with Mikkelson, she elaborated more on the subject of fake news and its effect on people.
“Once people have heard a rumor, and have chosen to sort of identify with it and believe it, they tend to have a very hard time letting go of it. There’s a proliferation, and a growing proliferation of these fake news sites.”
Some website are set up to look quite serious, when in fact they post articles and fake news stories that are made-up and used as “click-bait” with the sole purpose of going viral.
Mikkelson had this to say about these fake news sites.
“There will be something in these stories that pushes one’s buttons, that sort of angries up the blood, and sort of offends your innate sense of right and wrong. Once that button is pushed, it tends to override the desire to check the information to make sure it’s accurate, and sort of impels one to send it to everyone you know.”
Getting fake news in front of people is easier than it has ever been, according to Mikkelson.
“It is very easy for the fake news stories to get out there now. And with social media, to be spread in almost the blink of an eye.”
Journalists are aware of the fact that news travels fast. However, it is far more important to be credible and accurate, as opposed to creating sensationalism or being quick to get the news out to the public. Fake news abounds, and many web reporters compete with thousands of other writers who share the guilt of posting phony reports and rumors.
Before sharing fake news, Mikkelson suggests that we use common sense. Check out the story and consider the source.
[Photo courtesy of Mario Anzuoni/Reuters]