Any random dude in his basement can post fake news, and present it in ways that make it seem believable. That’s what Megan England, the young adult librarian, told the audience of schoolchildren and adults assembled at the Crozet Library on September 13.
In fact, it’s a hugely profitable business for some: England told the story of Paul Horner, who says he makes “like $10,000 a month from AdSense.” Horner said he began by seeing his posts as satire, but later realized that people believed his politically extreme fabricated articles and indiscriminately re-tweeted them. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Horner said certain groups of people never fact-check anything, especially when it vilifies a figure they hate, or glorifies their candidate.
England also told the group about the flourishing Macedonian industry manned by teenagers who use fake-news sites to profit from American gullibility. She said some of them claim to make thousands per month doing this. The practice of paying per number of views and shares is a great incentive to create stories so bizarre that Facebook users feel compelled to share them with other users. Adding to the problem is the growing practice of framing the posts in the visual context of a “real” news site. She showed the audience various fake renditions of ABC and CNN news sites.
Not everyone is paid for spreading fake news, England said: “Sometimes people participate because they’ll gain a political advantage from an online article, true or not.” Others write solely for the purpose of satire, like “The Onion,” and never expect to be believed.
England gave some questions for people of any age to ask about online or emailed information:
Is it from a source created by an entity that knows the subject and cares about the quality?
Is the information current, complete, and correct? Check the date of publication.
Is the source truthful and unbiased? Or are they selling something or supporting a particular point of view?
Are there verifiable sources for the information? Check two or three different sources to support the information.
England suggested using snopes.com, politifact.com, and factcheck.org to check online information.
Hayley Tompkins, the Crozet Library branch manager, gave those in attendance several reliable, well-maintained databases to use for correct, well-researched information. To find them, go to www.jmrl.org. She also invited adults and children to enlist the help of the library—either the main help desk or the librarian at the local branch––to help with researching questionable information.