The internet is currently one of the main sources of information for students, journalists and audiences in general for getting information about what is happening now in their area, the world or their personal circles. But it is also a source of deceit that can misinform us and lead us to misconceptions.
Some people take advantage of blogs, social networks and the media to spread fake news stories or hoaxes, as well as all kinds of misinformation. The most extreme examples of this trend are websites as The Onion and Private Eye which have turned the writing of fake news into a business model.
Trust me, I’m lying
Others hoax transmitters are not so obvious. In his book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a media manipulator, marketer Ryan Holiday admits his past as a media manipulator and explains how he used blogs and social networks to spread hoaxes. His smart tactics allowed him to reach mainstream media and made it talk about his clients’ brands. Holiday’s tips on how to read blogs are not only funny but also very useful to help us spot hoaxes:
- When you see a blog being with “According to a tipster… ,” know that the tipster was someone like me tricking the blogger into writing what I wanted.
- When you see “We’re hearing reports,” know that reports could mean anything from random mentions on Twitter to message board posts, or worse.
- When you see “leaked” or “official documents,” know that the leak really meant someone just emailed a blogger, and that the documents are almost certainly not official and are usually fake or fabricated for the purpose of making desired information public.
- When you see “breaking” or “We’ll have more details as the story develops,” know that what you’re reading reached you too soon. There was no wait-and-see, no attempt at confirmation, no internal debate over whether the importance of the story necessitated abandoning caution. The protocol is going to press early, publishing before the basics facts are confirmed, and not caring whether it causes problem for people.
- When you see “Updated” on a story or article, know that no one actually bothered to rework the story in light of the new facts — they just copied and pasted some shit at the bottom of the
- When you see “Sources tell us… ,” know that these sources are not vetted, they are rarely corroborated, and they are desperate for attention.
- When you see a story tagged with “exclusive,” know that it means the blog and the source worked out an arrangement that included favorable coverage. Know that in many cases the source gave this exclusive to multiple sites at the same time or that the site is just taking ownership of a story they stole from a lesser-known site.
- When you see “said in a press release,” know that it probably wasn’t even actually a release the company paid to officially put out over the wire. They just spammed a bunch of blogs and journalists via email.
- When you see “According to a report by,” know that the writer summarizing this report from another outlet has but the basest abilities in reading comprehension, little time to spend doing it, and every incentive to simplify and exaggerate.
- When you see “We’ve reached out to So-and-So for comment,” know that they sent an email two minutes before hitting “publish” at 4:00 a.m., long after they’d written the story and closed their mind, making absolutely no effort to get to the truth before passing it off to you as the news.
- When you see an attributed quote or a “said So-and-So,” know that the blogger didn’t actually talk to that person but probably just stole the quote from somewhere else, and per the rules of the link economy, they can claim it as their own so long as there is a tiny link to the original buried in the post somewhere.
- When you see “which means” or “meaning that” or “will result in” or any other kind of interpretation or analysis, know that the blogger who did it likely has absolutely zero training or expertise in the field they are opining about. Nor did they have the time or motivation to learn. Nor do they mind being wildly, wildly off the mark, because there aren’t any consequences.
- When you hear a friend say in conversation “I was reading that… ,” know that today the sad fact is that they probably just glanced at something on a blog.
Having these tips in mind will help us to avoid the trick of falling for fake contents, something that unfortunately happens with frequency. A good example of misinformation is a pretended scientific study that stated that “Internet Explorer users have below-average IQ“. The news story became viral, spreading internationally in different languages. It was first published by blogs, later by top newspapers. Every new journalist took the information from previous publications without checking the original sources. Many newspapers had to post corrections. Others did not bother.