How bloggers can avoid getting sucked into the fake news bubble

How bloggers can avoid getting sucked into the fake news bubble

No doubt you’ve seen the “fake news” label thrown about a lot lately, even in relation to major, generally respected, media outlets.

These might even be news outlets you’ve worked with as a journalist or PR professional. But mistaking news one doesn’t like with news that’s “fake” is only the tip of this iceberg.

Fake news stories are a real problem. And they aren’t new.

There are blogs and niche media sources largely dedicated to promoting conspiracy theories and propaganda.

When these things exist in their own little isolated bubbles, they may not seem like a big deal. But bloggers -- even those associated with larger media outlets – can greatly compound the problem.

Let’s look at why fake news can be a problem for bloggers – not only for bloggers and their readers, but also for those journalists and PR professionals in the business of promoting truth. Then we’ll explore some tips on how you can avoid inadvertently becoming part of the fake news problem yourself.

Fake news and the issue of amplification

Fake news can be a particular problem for bloggers. There can be a more intimate nature to the blogger-reader relationship than that between a consumer and a major media outlet. That can lead to a level of trust similar to that between friends or co-workers.

You come to trust, and feel like you know, the bloggers you read regularly.

Bloggers also tend to be active on social media – platforms where fake news can spread like wildfire. Their blogs provide an avenue to grow a sometimes large social media following.

And with around half of Americans getting their news from social media, that means bloggers are in an extraordinary position to amplify misinformation if they, even accidentally, share fake news stories.

How fake news sites suck you in

Bloggers can be led into sharing misinformation by the alluring nature of fake news. This is especially true when the false news item seems to vindicate their point of view on a topic they are passionate about.

Some of the ways these sites suck you in include:

  • Sensationalist clickbait headlines which are designed to attract clicks, reads and shares merely to increase ad revenue
  • The use of official-sounding “sources” that don’t actually exist, relying on readers being too lazy to check
  • Their appearance on Google and Facebook where people go to seek out news they assume will be accurate
  • The exploitation of confirmation bias, counting on readers to seek and believe “news” that supports their deepest beliefs and greatest fears, even if the facts don’t -- people want to believe

There are ways, however, for bloggers to combat this proliferation of fake news, or at least avoid falling for it and amplifying it on their own blogs or social media profiles.

Critical thinking can burst the fake news bubble

It’s vital for bloggers to be aware of not just the existence of fake news but also the various strategies to combat its spread.

Critical thinking is imperative when reading, sharing and dissecting new stories. Simply seeing a headline, clicking it, believing in it, and then sharing is a habit that contributes to the spread of false information.

How can you be more careful as a blogger who comments on and shares news stories?

1. Look beyond social media for your news. Never get the essence of a story from a social media post alone. Look at the original source.

2. Don’t rely on state-owned media for reliable political coverage. Just...don't. 

3. Turn to news sources where in-depth reporting and long-form interviews are valued more than soundbites, catchy headlines, and ad revenue. This is where public media and some non-profit media tend to shine (including the BBC and NPR who often cover lesser-known political stories major media doesn’t cover because they can’t monetize those stories).

4. If a story seems particularly unexpected or provocative, check additional trusted sources. Even legitimate news outlets can get caught up in sharing information before it’s properly vetted (and while sloppy journalism isn’t the same as intentionally-fake news, it can be just as detrimental when bloggers and others amplify those stories on social media).

5. Step outside your echo-chamber. Occasionally read stories from sources you dislike (not from places that routinely share conspiracy theories, but those that might lean slightly one way or the other -- hard news programs or publications, including international sources to bring in different perspectives).

6. Actually read a story before sharing it on social media or repeating it on your blog. It's that simple, really.

7. If you do screw up and share a fake news story with your blog’s readers or social media followers, don’t just share a retraction in a later post. Remove and/or update the original, apologize, and better yet, tell your readers what you plan to change in your process to make sure lax vetting won’t be a problem again. Trust is a key asset bloggers possess, and you should start working to earn that trust back immediately.

What are some cautionary tales and tips you have for bloggers regarding fake news? Tell @MuckRack your best advice or stories.

Edward Beaman - aka The Designer’s Copywriter - is a freelance copywriter and professional blogger with over a decade of experience writing content and promotional copy for the web.

Photos courtesy of Edward Beaman

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