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How To Spot Fake News

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How to Spot Fake News

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How To Spot Fake News

“Fake news” used to be a relatively uncommon problem, but over the last decade, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing consumption of news and articles has caused misinformation to run wild.

Far from a new concept, misinformation and cherry-picked stories have been used throughout history as a form of propaganda or information warfare. However, the rise of social media as a hub for sharing articles has spread “fake news”—false or misleading information presented as legitimate news—all over the internet.

Fueled further by increasing polarization, as well as the use of the term by former U.S. President Donald Trump to also refer to negative coverage (whether legitimate or misinformed), it seems more difficult than ever to separate trustworthy from misleading sources.

With this in mind, we combined guidance from non-profit journalism project First Draft News and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to create this guide for understanding “fake news” and how to spot it.

The Different Types of “Fake News”

In order to spot fake news, you have to know the many forms misinformation can take.

Not all fake news is created equal, or even with the intent to deceive. Some start as opinions or jokes that become misunderstood, twisted over time, and eventually turn into misinformation. Others begin with the sole purpose of deception.

Online Misinformation From Least Intentional to Most

  • Satire/Parody
    Articles or videos created to mock or laugh at an issue. If created without being an obvious parody, these types of articles can still fool readers and be shared as “real.”
  • False Connection
    Stories with headlines, visuals, and captions that don’t support the content. Sometimes the cause is an honest mistake or poor journalism, but other times the false connections are deliberate to draw more attention.
  • Misleading Content
    Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual, especially one not involved in the story. This can be caused by poor journalism or political influence, but is also caused by opinions being shared as news and the increasingly blurring line between the two.
  • False Context
    Genuine content that is shared with false contextual information, such as an incorrect date or a misattributed quote. This type of misinformation can still appear on news sites with poor fact-checking or opinion-based reporting, but is clearly driven by an agenda with an attempt to influence.
  • Imposter Content
    When genuine sources are impersonated in order to deceive the audience. Though this type of misinformation is used in parody, it is also used for profit and propaganda purposes, such as by sites disguised to look like news organizations or using fake credentials.
  • Manipulated Content
    The deliberate manipulation of information, such as digitally altering an image or making up quotes. This type of misinformation is easily proven fake with some research, but can spread too far before it is fact-checked.
  • Fabricated Content
    Newly created false content designed to deceive and do harm. These include deepfake videos and sites posing as legitimate news organizations.

Despite many types of misinformation appearing to be obvious at a glance, it’s harder to discern when browsing online. In a 2019 global survey on social media by Ipsos, 44% of people admitted to being duped by fake news at least once, while others may have been duped unwittingly.

And one reason is that fake or provocative news are simply being spread further, and more maliciously. A recent study of one Facebook bot farm found close to 14 thousand bots published around 200 thousand posts each month.

How To Tell If An Article is “Fake News”

With many types of misinformation to contend with, and trust in media organizations falling in the U.S. and around the world, it might seem like you’re surrounded by “fake news,” but there are a few things you can check to be sure.

  • The Source
    Investigate the site to make sure it’s legitimate, and check its mission and its contact info to understand if it’s news, satire, or opinion.
  • The URL
    Be wary of unusual top-level domain names, like “.com.co” that are designed to appear legitimate, such as ABCnews.com.co.
  • The Text
    Does the article have spelling errors or dramatic punctuation? This can be an easy find for simple fabricated content, as most reputable sources have high proofreading and grammatical standards.
  • The Information
    Read past click-baity headlines, note who is (or isn’t) quoted, and verify the information on other sites. This is also a good way to separate opinion pieces from news.
  • The Author
    Check the author’s bio and do a quick search on them. Are they credible to write about their story? Are they real?
  • Supporting Sources
    Click on the supporting links, and perform reverse searches on images. Do they actually support the story, or are they irrelevant (or worse, manipulated).
  • The Date
    Sometimes older news stories are shared again and gain traction because of current events, but that doesn’t mean they’re relevant or accurate.
  • Your Bias
    Especially with the rise of opinionated journalism and websites profiting from polarization, consider the intended audience for this story and if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • The Experts
    If a story feels flimsy, or doesn’t seem to be properly cited, consider asking an expert in the field or consulting a fact-checking site.

More than anything, consider that outrageous misinformation has an easier time spreading on the internet than boring real news. An MIT study found that false stories on Twitter were 70% more likely to get retweeted than accurate news.

But armed with knowledge about what “fake news” looks like, and with increased pressure on news organizations, the tide can be turned back in the favor of accurate news.

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Politics

Which Populations Feel Their Country is on the Wrong Track?

New polling data shows that, in many parts of the world, people feel that their countries are on a downward trajectory.

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Which Populations Feel Their Country is on the Wrong Track?

Plato once used the allegory of a Ship of Fools to push for his vision of a wise philosopher-king as the ideal pilot for a ship of state.

Looking at the most recent numbers from Morning Consult Political Intelligence’s Projections of Country Trajectories, you would be forgiven for thinking that a great many people believe that their ship of state is piloted by fools.

With the impact of the pandemic, rising inflation, and growing geopolitical instability, it’s probably not surprising that most respondents feel their countries are on the wrong track; India and Switzerland were notable exceptions.

Below are some of the stand-out stories that we found digging through the data.

United States

Midterm elections have rarely been kind to the incumbent party in U.S. politics and the cost of living crisis, an unpopular president, and the aftermath of the global pandemic pointed towards an electoral bloodbath. This year’s election was also expected to set a new spending record, with over $9 billion raised.

Even so, despite 72% of respondents thinking that the country is on the wrong track, the governing Democrats have defied expectations and posted a historic performance during the November 8, 2022, midterm elections. To put this into context, in a president’s first term, there have been three previous instances (since 1922) of the incumbent’s party gaining (or not losing) Senate seats and losing fewer than 10 seats in the House.

u.s. sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

Also worth noting is the large spike in negative sentiment in January 2021, following the U.S. Capitol attack, followed by the convergence of negative and positive sentiments as the peaceful transition of power became more assured.

Brazil

Horace, in Odes 1.14, describes a ship of state that is flailing at sea that eventually rights itself, claiming towards the end of the poem that “it’s my longing and no light love you carry.”

Something like that may be happening in Brazil following the loss of the often turbulent, COVID-19-denying President Jair Bolsonaro to political rival Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in an Oct. 20, 2022, election runoff.

Brazil sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

However, with respondents evenly split on where the country is going and the presidential election results being so close (50.9% vs. 49.1%), Lula will have his hands full governing a divided country.

India

While sentiment was overwhelmingly negative in almost every country tracked in this survey, India stood out as an outlier. India has consistently maintained a positive sentiment of between 60% and 80%, which is something only Switzerland comes close to.

india sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

The only blip was a brief period during the spring of 2021. This coincided with a deadly second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country, on top of country-wide protests against the Narendra Modi government’s deeply unpopular farm bill.

United Kingdom

The data here covers the three most recent UK Prime Ministers: Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and now Rishi Sunak, the first South Asian to hold the post.

uk sentiment trajectory 2020-2022

In January 2020, Johnson had just won a Tory majority and succeeded in “Getting Brexit Done.” Political scandals and the government’s pandemic response pushed the trendline down. It only recovered briefly in the spring of 2021, following Russia’s invasion of the Donbas region of Ukraine, which Johnson was widely seen as handling well. A personal visit to Kyiv on April 9, 2022, helped cement this.

Then followed Prime Minister Liz Truss’ disastrous mini-budget of Sept. 23, 2022, which saw the pound fall to the lowest-ever level against the dollar and the Bank of England intervene in the bond markets. The ascension of Rishi Sunak to No. 10 Downing Street has only just begun to turn around the low of 89% negative sentiment reported on Oct 23-25, 2022.

To quote the BBC comedy series, Yes, Minister, in another context, “the ship of state is the only ship that leaks from the top.”

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Politics

Visualized: The Biggest Donors of the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections

A record-smashing $9 billion has been raised for the 2022 midterm elections. See who the top 10 donors are in this graphic.

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Visualized: The Biggest Donors of the 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections

This year’s midterm election is expected to set a new spending record, with over $9 billion being raised. This is significantly higher than the previous record of $7 billion, which was set in 2018.

According to a recent analysis by the Washington Post, $1 billion of these funds can be attributed to the top 50 donors. In typical Visual Capitalist style, we’ve illustrated this data to provide you with better insight.

Overview of the Data

The following table lists the top 10 individual donors of the 2022 midterm elections.

RankNameAffiliationTotal Donation (USD millions)
#1George SorosDemocrat$129
#2Elizabeth & Richard UihleinRepublican$70
#3Kenneth GriffinRepublican$66
#4Jeffrey YassRepublican$48
#5Sam Bankman-FriedDemocrat$39
#6Stephen SchwarzmanRepublican$33
#7Timothy MellonRepublican$33
#8Larry EllisonRepublican$31
#9Peter ThielRepublican$30
#10Patrick & Shirley RyanRepublican$27

Sorting this top 10 donor list by party, we can see that $168 million was raised for the Democrats, and $338 million for the Republicans.

Continue reading below for some interesting background info on all 10 of these individuals. Net worth values were gathered from Forbes on November 1, 2022.

George Soros (Net worth: $7B)

George Soros is a Hungarian-born American billionaire, widely known for his philanthropical efforts and for “breaking” the Bank of England. He has had an illustrious career as a hedge fund manager, founding Soros Fund Management in 1970. Visit this page to see the top 100 holdings of Soros Fund Management’s portfolio.

Soros has donated over $30 billion of his fortune to various causes and charities. He is the founder and chairman of two Super PACs (political action committees) named Democracy PAC and Democracy PAC II.

Unlike regular PACs, Super PACs face no limits in terms of fundraising or political spending.

Elizabeth & Richard Uihlein (Combined net worth: $7B)

Elizabeth & Richard Uihlein are the founders of Uline, one of North America’s largest distributors of logistics supplies (boxes, tape, gloves, etc.). The company makes several billion in sales per year.

The couple have gained media attention for making substantial donations to the Republican party. According to Forbes, the Uihleins have donated a total of $194 million since the 1990s.

Kenneth Griffin (Net worth: $31B)

Kenneth Griffin is the founder and CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund based in the U.S. He also owns Citadel Securities, which is the largest market maker on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Market makers act as a middleman in financial markets by facilitating buy and sell orders for investors. Using equities (stocks) as an example, when a market maker receives an order from a buyer, it sells shares from its own inventory. This enables the stock market to run smoothly.

Griffin found himself in the spotlight during the GameStop short squeeze when his firm provided emergency funding to Melvin Capital Management.

Jeffrey Yass (Net worth: $30B)

Once a pro gambler, Jeffrey Yass is a cofounder of Susquehanna International Group (SIG), a successful trading firm based in Philadelphia. SIG specializes in quantitative research and trading, which involves the use of computer algorithms to identify opportunities.

Yass is frequently cited as the richest person in the state of Pennsylvania and has gained media attention for his large political contributions.

Sam Bankman-Fried (Net worth: $17B)

Sam Bankman-Fried is the founder and CEO of FTX, which is currently the world’s third largest cryptocurrency exchange behind Binance and Coinbase. The company is based in the Bahamas and offers trading in more than 300 cryptocurrencies.

In May 2022, Bankman-Fried declared that he was willing to donate “north of $100 million” in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. He has since backtracked this comment.

At some point, when you’ve given your message to voters, there’s just not a whole lot more you can do.
– Sam Bankman-Fried

Stephen Schwarzman (Net worth: $35B)

Stephen Schwarzman is the chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group, a globally recognized private equity firm. Blackstone’s portfolio of companies includes Ancestry.com, a well-known family history service, and Bumble, a popular online dating platform.

Shown below, Schwarzman’s wealth has increased substantially since 2020.

The bulk of Schwarzman’s political contributions have gone towards the Senate Leadership Fund, an independent Super PAC which aims to build a Republican Senate majority.

Timothy Mellon (Family net worth: $11B)

Timothy Mellon was the chairman and majority owner of Pan Am Systems, a privately held company with operations in transportation, manufacturing, and energy. In November 2020, CSX Corporation announced it had signed an agreement to purchase Pan Am. The sale was approved in April 2022.

Mellon made headlines in 2021 when it was revealed that he made a whopping $53 million donation to the Texas border wall fund. At the time of reporting, this represented 98% of total funding.

Larry Ellison (Net worth: $102B)

Larry Ellison is the chairman and cofounder of Oracle, one of the world’s largest software companies. Oracle is listed on the NYSE and has a market cap of over $200 billion. Ellison was also a Tesla board member from December 2018 to August 2022.

The vast majority of his political contributions have gone towards the Opportunity Matters Fund, which supports candidates who promote the Opportunity Agenda. It calls for enhanced financial literacy, apprenticeships, and education options.

Peter Thiel (Net worth: $4B)

Peter Thiel is a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, perhaps best known for cofounding PayPal. He also cofounded Palantir Technologies, a data analytics company, and is a general partner of Founders Fund, a venture capital firm with investments in major names such as SpaceX.

Thiel is one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, a position that sets him apart from many other Silicon Valley figures. In February 2022, it was reported that he would be stepping down as a Meta board member.

Patrick and Shirley Ryan (Patrick’s net worth: $9B)

Patrick Ryan is the founder and retired CEO of AON Corporation, one of the world’s largest insurance companies. In 2010, he founded another company known as Ryan Specialty Group, which provides services to insurance brokers.

Together with his wife Shirley, the Ryans have made large donations towards the Senate Leadership Fund and other Republican groups.

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