As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously said: "The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had." It is this anarchic experiment that has brought us so many wonderful things including worldwide communication and connectivity, boundless information and exciting opportunities for collaboration, but these great gifts come at a cost. Internet addiction, relentless spam and fake news are but a few costs that society is having to learn to navigate, and it is the latter issue of fake news that brings us write this blog post.
Over the past few years, many companies, including Pepsi, Chipotle and little old Tropical Sun have been the subject of fake news, in our case, produced using a prank site called Channel 23 News. Websites such as this provide would-be pranksters with a blank breaking news template and some basic guidance to create their own fake news story.
The end result, in our case:
One reason that prank news stories manage to fool some readers and gain traction on social platforms is that they closely resemble genuine news articles. In many cases, differentiating real news from fake news can require further research - and in some of those cases, knowing the truth can still prove difficult.
With the breaking news prank above, there were several clear indicators of its illegitimacy, including:
- Spelling errors including 'and', 'guidelines' and 'produce'
- Grammatical and phrasing errors
- Use of an emoji within the text
- Evident gaps in the prankster's understanding of the food industry - e.g. the World Health Organisation does not set the food standards in the UK
But not all fake news will be quite so obviously fake. To check the legitimacy of something you are reading, you should always:
- Evaluate the source - Is it definitely from a legitimate news outlet? Have you seen it on the news website itself, or could it be faked? Is the person forwarding it to you likely to have looked into its legitimacy before sending it on?
- Look for other credible reports - Are there other sources reporting on the same subject?
Fake news, even that that seems harmless and funny, can have very consequential real world effects, as we came to find out in the 2016 US elections.
Whilst Tropical Sun is fortunate enough to have 22 years of history servicing the community and many thousands of loyal customers worldwide, not all businesses are likely to be as robust and so fake news has the potential to damage them a lot more. It is those who are the most vulnerable will prove fake news' biggest victims, and so it is for them that we must all do our best to understand and resolve the problem.
Our love and thanks to those who have brought this (and other) instances of fake news to our attention, to those sharing the truth and to everyone else, who is, like us, forever learning to navigate the anarchic experiment that is the Internet!
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If you enjoyed reading this blog, may we recommend you check out our Mistaken Identity blog which covers a closely related topic!