Fake news. It’s all over the, er, news lately. A few years ago a North Carolina man opened fire inside a Washington, D.C. pizzeria because he had been led to believe there was a child sex-trafficking ring there led by Hillary Clinton. The culprit? A particularly virulent fake news story that was circulated online in places like Reddit and InfoWars and retweeted by bots and Twitter accounts based in the Czech Republic and Cyprus.
In an age where information can spread almost instantly, it’s important to understand that misinformation can spread just as quickly. Over the weekend Hawaiians thought for 38 minutes there was a missile headed toward them from North Korea. And that was just a mistake, not a blatant attempt to cause harm or panic like the Pizzagate story.
There are lots of ways that misinformation can spread online, and anyone wanting to cause harm and panic, or even wanting to disrupt democracy, knows how to exploit these weaknesses. People have become very comfortable with the Internet, so Internet hoaxes are getting more complex and more widely accepted.
Behind all those fake news stories are fake social media accounts pushing them out. But that’s not all that fake social media accounts are responsible for. Fake social media accounts can also be created in order to gain access to your personal information, harass you, publicly shame you, and more.
It’s up to you to be sure you know who you are dealing with online and whether they are reputable. Not every social media account even has a human behind it – many are bots. And news stories aren’t all created equal – look for reputable sources and reputable reporting practices and follow the sources back to the beginning whenever possible.
Learn more about where fake social media profiles come from with this infographic!