According to a recent BBC report, the US election season has produced a bumper crop of fake news. Of course, people have been making stuff up and passing it off as genuine probably forever. But the BBC seems to be focused on two tech-related factors: social media and advertising, and less on the non-tech-related one: satire.
With research suggesting an increasing proportion of US adults are getting their news from social media, it's likely that more and more of us are seeing - and believing - information that is not just inaccurate, but totally made up.
And the culprit here is advertising. There is money to be made from generating fake news. For example, the report profiles "The National Report" (http://nationalreport.net/; I won't actually link to it, to avoid furthering the problem), which can bring in $10,000 for a plausible but fake news story that gets passed around social media, dragging in advertising dollars along the way. The risk seems obvious: sharing fake news can reinforce a previously held-belief, creating further confirmation bias and polarizing an already estranged voting public.
Fake news often gets picked up and distributed by real news organizations as genuine, which confuses matters even more. And it's not like the professionals are doing that great at truth-vs-fiction these days (see "ABC News staged crime-scene shot, photograph shows", or various attempts to photoshop news photos and try to get away with it).
Of course, sometimes, what we all need is a bit satirical news to lighten the mood or provide a fresh look at matters and perhaps reveal that the emperor really has no clothes. The American comedian Jon Stewart firmly established the political pattern for such fake news in the 21st century with The Daily Show. There's also The Onion, a satirical newspaper with the self-proclaimed title "America's Finest News Source" and, apparently, a long history: "Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1765, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history." Both of these "news organizations" have seen their reports get picked up as genuine or get treated as meaningful sources of information.
Thankfully, we still have Snopes, which has been fighting rumors, urban legends, and online misinformation for centuries now.
What do you think? Have you ever caught and shared fake news? A "catch-and-release" type of social media user? (did you click any ads along the way?) And how best to combat fake news in an era when Presidential candidates can claim that almost an entire media landscape is rigged?