Information is spreading faster than ever before. In this era of retweets, shares and reposts, worldwide communication has been streamlined such that a breaking news story in California can make its way to China in mere seconds.
However, the new speed at which information spreads has a downside, as unsuspecting citizens are sharing fake stories faster than ever before.
A recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that fake stories get shared up to ten times faster than true stories, likely due to their intriguing headlines about hot-button issues.
The spread of false information can have disastrous consequences, as a misinformed public would be ill-equipped to hold public officials accountable or make responsible political decisions, eroding democracy. The fake stories promoted during the 2016 presidential election likely impacted how people cast their votes in a crucial election.
We as citizens have a responsibility to try to stop the spread of fake information. The MIT study also found that humans are more responsible for this proliferation of fake news on social media and other platforms than automated bots.
This means that we have the ability to limit the diffusion of fraudulent stories. It is vital that we are aware of the threat and do our best to contain fake stories.
Vigilance is the first step. Skepticism about the credibility of internet articles is crucial to the solution.
Almost all readers know to be suspicious of unknown news outlets and to gut-check stories that seem too outrageous to be real. Even when news comes from a seemingly reliable website, however, cross-checking the information with multiple trusted sources before clicking the “share” button can help curtail the spread of fake news.
It becomes even harder to separate real facts from false information when stories are quickly developing. In the aftermath of the Boston Bombings in 2013, for example, a false theory of who was responsible for the attack spread across social media.
Instead of sharing information while a story is breaking, it would be wise for citizens to wait for official statements to minimize the spread of misinformation.
It’s up to us to step up and stop the dissemination of fake news.