Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Viral content is a real virus to journalism

This morning, I was made to look like a fool. It could happen to anybody, including you or a loved one. I thought I was immune to these schemes, but I was wrong. Allow me to warn you about a plague that is going viral across the globe:

Fake news sites.

My daily morning meeting was no different from any other day. I checked my email, looked at potential news tips I had received, and printed out the ones I would pitch to my editors. I quickly browsed through the text to be sure the subject matter was worthy.

Before I knew it, it was my turn to pitch a story.

“Pennsylvania is closing down Interstate 90 … until May,” I announced.

I paused because something seemed unusual, but I continued.

“Apparently, PennDOT is shutting it down due to weather,” I said hesitantly.

The room started getting smaller and the air a bit warmer. When asked who the source was, I looked down at the link at the bottom of the page. Tunnel vision, perspiration and rosy cheeks settled in.

“Gooferie.com,” the link shouted at me in a mocking manner.

I had been duped. By a fake news site. Inside the War Room of a legit news publication. I felt sick.

Ever since the popularity of satire news site The Onion, fake news webpages have been popping up and spreading like the Black Death bubonic plague. Facebook and other social media sites are breeding grounds for fake, viral content.

The Onion is a great satire site. Its writers know how to write pieces that are clearly satire. Too many impersonators lack that talent, blurring the lines between satire and deceit. It’s a pervasive problem with blogs and the Internet.

Before I started writing for Land Line, I wrote a blog called “Facebook Fallacies” where I pointed out erroneous links on Facebook. My friends and family posted enough fake news links, believing they were true, to keep that blog alive until I no longer had time to commit. I was good at filtering out the BS … or so I thought.

My mistake is common. I read the headline, skimmed through the text, and moved on. I did not check the link or the source, or even bother to read the full text before walking into that meeting. Fortunately, I caught my own ignorance before spreading it further.

According to market research company eMarketer, adults spend 51 percent of their day with digital media using a mobile device, surpassing desktop and laptop computers at 42 percent. We’re busy people. We check emails and news on our phones while doing other activities. Who has time to read a full story, let alone vet the source of the information?

Click a link on social media while at a stoplight, scan it, absorb it, GREEN LIGHT! You have now contracted the virus. It’s that easy.

There is a simple cure: Review before posting. When it’s time to fuel up, go back to that link, read the full story, and check the source. Here are some websites I have used to fact check suspicious stories: 
If everything is kosher, post it on social media. If you discover that you have been conned, tuck your tail between your legs and thank God nobody noticed.

I wasn’t so lucky, but I contained the virus. Spread the word.