Earlier this month, news surfaced that that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari neither died nor was replaced by a Sudanese imposter, flattening the rumor that has circulated social media since his trip to Britain last year for an undisclosed illness. But, as we have seen from the string of WhatsApp murders in India over the past many months where a rumor has led to deaths of people, it is frightening to think that social media can often inform.
The news both made me chuckle, but then worry set in since, as a journalist, I have witnessed how fake news is published by media outlets without any fact checking. It made me realize that with as many apps we have for verifying our identities, such as Identiway, Onfido, and mobile technology’s own in-built apps like Touch ID and Face ID, there is no technology to differentiate fake news from real news. How are we to know, for instance, if a person like Mr. Buhari has truly been replaced by a clone. Paradoxically there are apps that can make fake news!
In recent months, there has been a surge in apps that try to work around the problem of fake news, if not to detect it then at least to allow users to choose which media sources are trusted. From free to paid apps, the options are extensive when it comes to avoiding fake news in an era where most people don’t have time to verify the news they barely have time to read.
While the Fake News Blocker iOS app received bad reviews and many claimed It does not work at all, other apps allow users to select specific news sources from which to display media stories. For instance, Flipboard allows news to be curated to readers' tastes, Inoreader is an RSS feed of news from trusted sources, and Feedly combines social media and news keywords into a streamlined feed of trustworthy news. Similarly, SmartNews curates news for readers with an algorithm designed for a trustworthy feed.
While there is no automated app to detect and clear fake news, there is an app called Test News, with which users can copy and paste a potential fake news feed to test the news quality. Think of it like a mobile version of Snopes. Be careful, however, for when you do a search on Google’s store of fake news apps, a lot of them are apps to produce, not detect, fake news.
Aside from handy apps, there have been a series of games developed over the past year to train people to spot fake news. Facititious and Bad News are interactive online games to test users' ability to spot fake news. Additionally, there are many Chrome extensions that provide alerts when unreliable news feeds pop up in the browser, Includeing B.S. Detector and Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon plugins.
Short of this, there is always the more laborious effort of going to Snopes or Fake News Detector AI. In the meantime, let’s cross our fingers that better apps emerge in the coming months to save us from sharing on Facebook the death of Morgan Freeman. It’s socially awkward, but it is becoming embarrassing, as I have witnessed many people, busy with work and other pressures, to have accidentally posted this story more than once to their social media feeds.
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