Manipulation, misinformation and bending the truth are essential ingredients in the recipe for Fake News. Dissemination of content that is infested with fake information have intentions to defame, derogate or even derail an ongoing activity. Our dependence on social media is obvious and the fact that we get most of our news in the form of updates from these platforms, further magnify the ramifications. One of the root causes for a myriad of fabricated stories making headlines today, is the thin line between ‘fake and ‘satire’ that often goes unnoticed. With reference to real-world news, satire (or as some call it ‘good satire’) involves humor, sarcasm and exaggeration to criticize and uncover a current topic or controversy. While, we already know what fake news is all about.
Satire websites have been in existence for a long time now, but the recent misinterpretation of satire news for real news has led to outrageous results, especially in the political sphere. For example, in United States of America the two topics mentioned below were satire news, but the huge outcry around it (misinterpreting it as the truth) propelled it to the headlines in mainstream media.
- Pope endorses Donald Trump for the presidential elections. News that was created as a parody on a satire website (WTOE5News.com which is now defunct), turned into a public clamor. More details here.
- President Obama signed an executive order which bans the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Another fabricated story on a satire site which went viral.
In a recent report, two-in-three U.S. adults say that fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. While, 16% of U.S. adults say they have shared fake political news inadvertently, only discovering later that it was entirely made up.
India is no stranger to fake news either. A satirical article on Selfitis, was used as reference for some insignificant research carried out in India. The large hue and cry over multiple fabricated messages that spread like wild fire, post the announcement of note ban was shocking enough. Only difference is, India is still at a nascent stage when it comes to satire news sites. This is seen as more of a trend in the western part of our planet. Terminating the vermin that Fake News is to our society is not just the responsibility of the platforms that amplify it, but also of each individual who spots it. So, before we fall prey to this massive slayer, here are some steps that we could follow to discern the difference between legitimate and satire websites (or fake news websites for that matter):
- Know the difference: Check if the source is an official satire-news website or a fake-news website
- URL & Domain name: Satire sites usually will have domain names that mirror the legitimate sites but have a slight difference. E.g.: Legit: cnn.com and satire: www.cnn.com.de
- About Us: The description of the website under the ‘About Us’ column will definitely be an indicator to a fake site. (Check out the difference in the above mentioned sites)
- Missing information: Missing details under sections of ‘About Us’, ‘Legal’, ‘Disclaimer’ or ‘Contact Us’ are pointers to raise a question on the authenticity of the site.
- Author’s details: Look-up the author of the article, if he is unknown or known for posting radical content on other unreliable websites and if not, then it is not a credible source.
- Other News Sites: If the news is too good to be true, check other credible news sources and if they are carrying the same news. If not, then it likely it is fabricated.
‘Post-truth’ was Oxford Dictionary’s international word of the year 2016. Why you wonder? The frame of reference here are the US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum. As we continue to live in this post-truth period, many big-league social media players are churning out huge sums of money and intelligence to fight the architects of Fake News. Satire News can definitely co-exist and continue to serve its purpose as an exaggerated, humorous way to drive a socially virtuous objective. But its distinction should be precise and apparent to ensure it is never interpreted as genuine.