Companies get penalized for making false claims about products and services, but when it comes to fake news sites, these scams are much harder to catch. If you're a Facebook user, you probably have a friend who shared a bogus news story because he or she was convinced the information was accurate. Or maybe you were fooled by a fake article until someone pointed out the inaccuracies. Fake news stories are not new. Satirical publications have been using wit to draw attention to social issues for centuries.
However, there's a fine line between outlandish articles that point to an insightful truth and those that bait readers. As New Republic contributor Emmett Rensin wrote in response to a fake story being circulated by The Daily Currant, "When Currant stories go viral, it's not because their satire contains essential truths, but rather because their satire is taken as truth--and usually that 'truth' is engineered to outrage a particular frequency of the political spectrum."
And with the ability to earn money through ad impressions, fake news sites are cashing in on readers' gullibility while ruining the user experience. In January, Facebook began clamping down on fake news stories when it added the ability to flag a post as a hoax. If enough people (Facebook doesn't share that number) tag the post as false, it will be marked with a message warning readers that it contains false information and get reduced distribution in the News Feed.
However, this feature doesn't do enough to prevent false information from littering the News Feed. This week alone, several of my friends shared posts spouting provocative but fake news about Donald Trump and the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling (two unrelated topics). At the same time, people must be more critical of what they read online. As for those who were deceived by these stories, hopefully they'll avoid making the same mistake a second time.
But false information continues to proliferate faster than we can stop it. And unless companies like Facebook and Google improve their algorithms and people become less gullible, these sites will likely persist.