Last month, a news alert came through that European Union slapped Google with a $2.7 billion fine for breaking antitrust law. The EU judged that Google had "abused its dominate position by systematically favoring" its own shopping comparison services while demoting its competitors' listings.
There's some irony, then, in a recent bid by a coalition of 2,000+ US and Canadian newspapers—the News Media Alliance (NMA)-- for a limited antitrust exemption from Congress which would let news organizations collectively bargain with Facebook and Google, like a union would. Some believe the internet giants have only gained their dominance by skirting antitrust regulations.
Will the U.S. Congress grant the antitrust reprieve and allow news publishers to band together at the bargaining table with Google and Facebook? It's not clear. The media's request might not be so enthusiastically received by the Republican-controlled Congress. What about other governments around the globe? Are they reluctant to take action as EU lawmakers are taking a hard stance?
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What is clear is that fake news continues to dominate Facebook News Feed, the top results of Google's search engine and WhatsApp and other messaging services. Whether because they lack the ability or the desire, Facebook and Google have not yet stepped up to guarantee the accuracy of reporting upheld by reputable news associations but they have been updating their algorithms to attempt to combat the problem.
WhatsApp's encrypted instant messaging application boasts 1.2 billion users worldwide who pass along messages, and fake news is rapidly becoming a problem as the information could easily get disseminated with no oversight from members of a social media community. Shammas Oliyath and Balkrishna Birla founded check4spam to bust fake news floating around WhatsApp, but it is quite manual. Users have to identify stories they want to check with check4spam. While there are many other fact-checking sites that have been around for a while and new ones that are emerging, fact-checking sites cannot keep up with the countless stories popping up.
So, what are we to do about the fake news crisis?
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Then whose fault is this rise in fake news? Google and Facebook and WhatsApp? Government regulations or lack thereof? Or, is it ultimately, a bunch of us consumers that prefer to get our news from social and free streams rather than reputable, paid news sources?
Maybe it doesn't matter. The fact is real news costs. Good news is time consuming and expensive. As NMA president and chief executive David Chavern explains, "Facebook and Google don't employ reporters. They don't dig through public records to uncover corruption, send correspondents into war zones or attend last night's game to get the highlights."
In situations where it really matters whether we're relying on verified, accurately-reported news, the fact is, we're probably going to have to pay for it.
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But, if we're going to continue to use these free (or very cheap) news sources in less critical situations, then it's up to us to figure out if it's real. These tips to ferret out fake news have been often reported but here are a few of the key ones:
- Look for unusual URLs or site names, including those that end with ".co"
- Look for signs of low quality, such as words in ALL CAPS, headlines with glaring grammatical errors, and bold claims with no sources
- Check the published dates. Old news being depicted as current or missing dates altogether are cause for suspicion.
- Check a site's "About Us" section. If this information doesn't exist, ask yourself why they aren't being transparent.
- Consider whether other credible, mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news.
- Check your emotions. If the news you're reading makes you really angry or super smug, it could be a sign that you're being played.
- Check multiple sources before trusting.
We're not defenseless against fake news. It's annoying for sure, to have to sift through it, double and triple check the sources, cover our bases by accessing multiple channels, or check our pulses to make sure we haven't bought into some sort of sensationalism.
But if you've gotten your news from Facebook or other social media, Google or a variety of other free web sources without verification from multiple reputable news publishers … well, then, you got what you paid for.