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Fake News
March 8, 2018

For fans of the truth, the results of a recent scientific study are more than a little dismaying.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that stories with false or inaccurate information spread far faster on Twitter than factually sound ones. For the study, published Thursday in the journal Science, scientists analyzed 126,000 news stories shared by 3 million people across the entire history of Twitter — from 2006, when the platform was started, until the end of 2017.

The researchers found that false news stories were about 70 percent more likely to be shared by Twitter users than true ones, Reuters reported. The study is one of the most comprehensive and wide-reaching ones so far that attempts to analyze the ways we use social media. And perhaps even more surprising than how far fake news can go is why it travels in the first place: It's "not just because of bots," said Soroush Vosoughi, the lead scientist on the study, who has been researching fake news since 2013. "It might have something to do with human nature."

That's not to say that bots bear no responsibility for the spread of fake news; in spreading specific lies and rumors, they can be quite significant. But over the decade that Twitter has been around, they don't come close to accounting for the 70 percent difference, The Atlantic reported. Instead, it's Twitter users who seem to prefer falsehoods to the truth: Even when researchers took into account various external factors, like how large of a Twitter following the source account had or whether they were verified by Twitter, fake news easily beat out the truth by a wide margin.

In the end, whatever provoked a strong emotional reaction was what people wanted to share the most. While the MIT researchers focused on Twitter, they said that their results would likely apply to Facebook and other social media platforms as well. Read more about the study at The Atlantic. Shivani Ishwar

September 27, 2017

Paul Horner, a self-proclaimed satirist who said that his fake news articles probably unwittingly helped elect President Trump, was found dead at his mother's house outside Phoenix on Sept. 18, the Maricopa County Sheriff's department said Tuesday. Horner, 38, was discovered dead in his bed, sheriff's department spokesman Mark Casey said, but an autopsy found no signs of foul play and "evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose." The case will remain open until toxicology reports come back.

Horner's brother, J.J. Horner, told The Associated Press that his brother was always interested in the news, drawing editorial cartoons while still in grade school in Minnesota. "I think he just wanted people to just think for themselves and be credible for their actions," he said. "Read more; get more involved instead of just blindly sharing things." In a November interview with The Washington Post, Paul Horner made clear that he wasn't a Trump supporter and he'd hoped his fake articles would make Trump fans "look like idiots" when they discovered they were taken in. But "they never fact-check anything!" he said. "Now he's in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it."

PolitiFact remembered Horner with a list of some of his fake news stories they debunked, including one cited by Trump and shared by campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski about protesters being paid $3,500 to disrupt Trump rallies, posted to the real-sounding site abcnews.com.co. He earned thousands of dollars a month from his articles. In December 2016, Horner tried to explain why he wrote what he called "satire" to CNN's Anderson Cooper. You can watch that below. Peter Weber

July 24, 2017

The New York Times is accusing Fox & Friends of running a "malicious and inaccurate segment" regarding a story it published in 2015, and it's requesting that the Fox News morning show apologize on-air and in a tweet.

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the Times, told The Associated Press Sunday that on Saturday, a Fox & Friends host inaccurately claimed that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was able to "sneak away under the cover of darkness" after the Times published an article that tipped him off. The host went on to say the U.S. would "have had al-Baghdadi based on the intelligence that we had, except someone leaked information to the failing New York Times." The newspaper defended itself by pointing out that more than three weeks before the article appeared in print, the Pentagon issued a press release that al-Baghdadi could have seen, and the Pentagon "raised no objections" about the report, based on intelligence gathered from a raid, before it was published.

The segment was seemingly based on an interview Fox News did with Gen. Tony Thomas, who was head of U.S. Special Operations Command. He said in 2015, they were "close" to al-Baghdadi, following a raid, but the "lead went dead" after it "was leaked in a prominent national newspaper." Caley Cronin, a spokeswoman for Fox, told AP in a statement that Fox & Friends will "provide an updated story to viewers tomorrow morning based on the FoxNews.com report." President Trump, a faithful viewer of Fox & Friends, tweeted on Saturday that the "failing" New York Times "foiled" the government's attempt to kill al-Baghdadi; the Times responded on Sunday with a story saying he was incorrect. Catherine Garcia

June 21, 2017

Fox News' Sean Hannity told his viewers Tuesday night that a "soft coup is underway" in America "in an attempt to overturn November's election results."

"Sinister forces quickly aligning, in what is becoming now, in my mind, a clear and present danger," Hannity went on, adding: "Here in America, we are at a turning point tonight with forces now forming an alliance to try and remove President Trump from office. It's that serious."

Hannity's warning isn't wholly original; in March, radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed a "silent coup" is being waged against Trump. "There is the execution of an attempt at a peaceful coup," Limbaugh said at the time. "A peaceful coup to oust Donald Trump is what we are witnessing. It's been orchestrated by Obama and the Democrat Party. It's that simple."

But a warning to all considering crying "coup": The accusations easily fly the other direction as well. Historian Timothy Snyder told Salon in May that it is "pretty much inevitable" that Trump tries to stage a coup to overthrow democracy, while U.S. News & World Report's Austin Sarat called Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey a "slow-motion coup d'etat." Jeva Lange

May 15, 2017

White House officials barely managed to stop President Trump from tweeting about a widely circulated internet hoax after a printout of the hoax was left on his desk by his deputy national security adviser, Politico reports. Trump had believed the printout was real and that it highlighted the media's hypocrisy; the hoax depicted two Time magazine covers, a recent one warning about the dangers of global warming and a seemingly contradictory, but fake, cover from 1977 warning about the coming ice age:

"While the specific cover is fake, it is true there was a period in the '70s when people were predicting an ice age," a White House official later defended to Politico. "The broader point I think was accurate."

Yet the incident is only the most recent in a flood of near-misses stemming from staffers intentionally leaving dubious articles that fuel their own agendas on the president's desk in the hopes of swaying his opinion and policies. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus recently asked staff to follow the often-ignored laws that require a proper catalog of what lands on the president's desk: "They have this system in place to get things on his desk now," a White House official said. "I'm not sure anyone follows it."

In another instance, the president received a news printout claiming without evidence that Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh was behind the White House leaks, prompting Trump to begin inquiries. And in another case, Trump was slipped a New York Times op-ed by four of his former economic advisers and after reading it, Trump immediately demanded their proposal be his official tax plan.

Ultimately, it was. "I've probably written 1,000 op-eds on my life but that might have been the most impactful," marveled one of the authors, Stephen Moore. Jeva Lange

April 27, 2017

CNN's Jake Tapper said Wednesday night that he's disheartened by a new poll. He traced the objectionable results back to President Trump's tweets in February accusing former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones in Trump Tower, then played clips of House Speaker Paul Ryan and FBI Director James Comey unequivocally shooting down those claims. "So that would have seemingly been that — except that the president and his team kept pushing ways to make this evidence-free claim somewhere, sort of, possibly in the neighborhood of almost not entirely false," Tapper said. "Now, they failed, but they muddied the waters quite a bit, and now, here are the shocking numbers."

In a new ABC/Washington Post poll, he said, "32 percent of the public thinks President Obama intentionally spied on Donald Trump and members of his campaign, and 52 percent of Republicans believe this charge — a charge that there is literally no evidence to support; it is the definition of fake news." Americans can believe what they want — "18 percent of the public says they've seen or been in the presence of a ghost — I mean, whatever," Tapper said — "but in a thriving democracy, truth matters and facts matter. We learned in the campaign that Donald Trump can be cavalier about facts and truth. We learned in his first 100 days that that's not going to change, indeed that some in the government and some of his friends in conservative media will even work to try to make his falsehoods seem true."

But then Tapper pulled back, pointing out that "fake news" cuts both ways, and there's "a lot of incendiary nonsense against Trump on the left that is just as fake." Otherwise sensible journalists retweet some of that news on Twitter. The news media has to be very careful to present only facts and cogent analysis, he said, "and this is a time for you, the public, to demand evidence from your leaders and from your media, even if you already agree with the politics of the person on your TV." Watch below. Peter Weber

April 7, 2017

Google debuted a real-time fact-checking feature for its search results Friday morning, a new functionality that prominently displays relevant fact-checks from services like PolitiFact and Snopes at the top of results for stories known to be false or misleading. The fact-check information will be in a separate box distinct from the main list of options, similar to how recipes are already displayed:


(Google)

"This information won't be available for every search result, and there may be search result pages where different publishers checked the same claim and reached different conclusions," the search engine said in a blog post announcing the feature. "Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it's still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree."

To be eligible as a Google fact-check source, websites must meet an extensive list of criteria, including independent evaluation and Google's own assessment. Bonnie Kristian

January 12, 2017

BuzzFeed News has gotten a lot of pushback for publishing an unverified, at least partly wrong dossier put together by a former British MI6 spy suggesting Russia has compromising material on President-elect Donald Trump, who called BuzzFeed a "failing pile of garbage" on Wednesday for publishing the "fake news." NBC political director Chuck Todd didn't necessarily disagree with Trump, and told BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith so on MTP Daily Wednesday evening.

"You talk about context and you talk about putting responsibility on the readers, but at the same time, don't you have the responsibility of not spreading false information?" Todd asked. "I know this was not your intent — I've known you a long time — but you just published fake news." Smith disagreed. "I think people love to throw the phrase 'fake news' around to diminish anything they don't like," he said, "but this was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country. And then the question you say is, okay — it's okay for you, Chuck Todd, to see this document, it's okay for me to see it, it's okay for John McCain, okay for the CIA — why is not okay for your audience?"

Smith said he made the decision to publish because everybody from news outlets to retired Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was alluding to these mysterious secret documents and "I think this is a place where sunlight is a disinfectant, where it is important to show your audience what you have." When Todd protested that what BuzzFeed did really hurts the credibility of the news media, Smith called such squeamishness a "luxury" from an earlier, pre-internet time. "There was an era when you would be the gatekeeper of information, and you would say to your audience, 'Trust us, we're keeping things from you, we have lots of secrets we're not telling you, you should trust us,'" he said. "I think you could say that was a good era, that was a bad era, that is not the present day." Todd was aggressively unconvinced. Watch below. Peter Weber

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