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The Rise of Hoax News 181

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Reporter Luke O'Neil writes that 2013 was journalism's year of bungles: the New Jersey waitress who received a homophobic comment on the receipt from a party she had served; Samsung paying Apple $1 billion in nickels; former NSA chief Michael Hayden's assassination; #CutForBieber; Nelson Mandela's death pic; that eagle snatching a child off the ground on YouTube; Jimmy Kimmel's 'twerk fail' video; and Sarah Palin taking a job with Al-Jazeera America (an obviously satirical story that even suckered in The Washington Post). All these stories had one thing in common: They seemed too tidily packaged, too neat, 'too good to check,' as they used to say, to actually be true. 'Any number of reporters or editors at any of the hundreds of sites that posted these Platonic ideals of shareability could've told you that they smelled, but in the ongoing decimation of the publishing industry, fact-checking has been outsourced to the readers,' writes O'Neil. 'This is not a glitch in the system. It is the system. Readers are gullible, the media is feckless, garbage is circulated around, and everyone goes to bed happy and fed.' O'Neil says that the stories he's written this year that took the least amount of time and effort usually did the most traffic while his more in-depth, reported pieces didn't stand a chance against riffs on things predestined to go viral. That's the secret that Upworthy, BuzzFeed, MailOnline, Viral Nova, and their dozens of knockoffs have figured out: You don't need to write anymore—just write a good headline and point. 'As Big Viral gets bigger, traditional media organizations are scrambling to keep pace,' concludes O'Neil. 'We the media have betrayed your trust, and the general public has taken our self-sanctioned lowering of standards as tacit permission to lower their own.'"
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The Rise of Hoax News

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  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:01AM (#45817933)

    ... and the solution:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73_ds1xQmD4 [youtube.com]

    When are people going to start demanding Authority AND Accountability instead of sound-bite entertainment?

    Success is not only the destination (end-goal) but also involves the journey (of hard word along the way.)

    • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:12AM (#45818009)

      Demanding authority and accountability means we need some standard, reliable source of truth to measure them against. Where do we get it from?

      • Demanding authority and accountability means we need some standard, reliable source of truth to measure them against. Where do we get it from?

        That doesn't sound correct to me. I think most persons realize they have to accept a lower standard, for the reason you give.

        I think that the standard normally demanded is that a good-seeming knowledge vetting approach is consistently applied. With "good-seeming" being a combination of intuitively reliable and not producing many later-shown-false reports.

      • I get mine from comments and homepages on the internet.

      • Q. How does Science do it?

        There are a number of solutions:

        - Remove money (profit) from the news.

        - Hold the media accountable to actions that are contrary to the greater good.
        i.e. Charlie Brooker's Newswipe 25/03/09
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PezlFNTGWv4 [youtube.com]

        - Allow an independent organization the authority to audit the media for sensationalism, and fine them.

        - Name and Shame / Peer Pressure
        i.e. Scroll down to "7. The Harvard Man"
        http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-america-lost-the-war-on-dr [rollingstone.com]

        • - Allow an independent organization the authority to audit the media for sensationalism, and fine them.

          This, unfortunately, would violate the first amendment, and it would never be acceptable to those it was intended to regulate. They have limited time and limited resources to present a potentially large amount of information to the viewers/readers, and your "sensationalism" is their "edited to fit the space available".

          When are we going to stop allowing greed to dictate our "news" ?

          The day we socialize all media and pay for it through tax dollars. The Beeb has a reputation because of that, and US "public television" tries to claim they do because they claim they aren'

      • by rsborg ( 111459 )

        Demanding authority and accountability means we need some standard, reliable source of truth to measure them against. Where do we get it from?

        No, that's not what's needed. There's a lot of bullshit out there that nobody thinks is "news". What's at issue here is that these propoganda organizations that try to dip into that pool and not filter it for sanity (e.g.: Fox "news" - entertainment posing as reportage).

        I see this hoax news as a good movement. People need to understand that these organizations where they get their "facts" need to be correlated and cross-checked. Especially from the internet, but it's easier there because some folks gene

        • Moreso on Snopes and Penn & Teller, less so, Politifact.

          Politifact has an agenda, and while the text of their articles usually contains references and facts about the claims in dispute (and they should, because their research method is to call the person making the claim and ask them to produce citations...), their conclusions often bear little relation to the facts in question.

          If you're making a claim that supports their agenda, you can get away with lying - they'll give you a "mostly true," no matter

    • When are people going to start demanding Authority AND Accountability instead of sound-bite entertainment?

      They are never going to. And this is why democracy doesn't work.

    • What punishment can we impose if they don't live up to that demand?

      (Hint: nothing.)

      • That's not true. We can demand fact-checking and all the other things that journalism is supposed to represent. If a source doesn't live up to the standard we can take our business to someone who does. The free market for news works just fine.

        The problem is that 90+% of the viewers simply don't care and are just looking for blood and guts or T and A.

        So "we" can't, when "we" means you and me and the too few other folks who really care about the truth and not just confirming our prejudices, but when "we" m

    • by Kimomaru ( 2579489 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:28AM (#45818109)
      Too true. People tune in to news not really for the purpose of getting information but to hear someone confirm that their world view is right. That's a cultural problem. I hate to say it, but the news itself isn't the problem.
    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:46AM (#45818271) Homepage Journal

      "Accountability"? For what?

      Here's the problem: There already is accountability. The problem is that it's not for what you feel it should be. The accountability is for producing entertainment. If the news is entertaining, the publisher will be rewarded. If the news isn't, the publisher will be weakened.

      In terms of accountability to inform, that was tossed out the window years ago - if, indeed, it ever existed. These days most people don't, actually, want to be informed. They want something that doesn't challenge them too much, and that makes them feel informed afterwards, while keeping them entertained. The occasional outright lie in such an environment is not merely tolerable, it's desirable.

      Entire news networks exist purely to tell people what they want to hear. Do you think that's an accident?

      The world shouldn't work like this, but it does anyway.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by JWW ( 79176 )

        The world shouldn't work like this, but it does anyway.

        Then how should the world work?

        I will take this decentralized, messy, sometimes inaccurate, active, energized, aggressive reporting of everything under the sun with the caveat of "reader beware" a thousand times over something that is managed by (to borrow from a meme I hate) "Top Men".

        Those granted the authority to fix the stated problem in this case will always ALWAYS become corrupted and begin to limit views that do not agree with their "norms". Out of that will eventually be borne far more evil than ex

        • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:06PM (#45818853) Homepage Journal

          Then how should the world work?

          I don't know, but at no point did I ever suggest anything remotely similar to thinking "something that is managed by (to borrow from a meme I hate) "Top Men"" would be a relevent replacement. At no point did I address or even go near the issue of who should impose accountability - my comment, when read by English speakers, was very clearly and unambigiously talking about the values news organizations should be accountable for.

          So knock it off with putting words into my mouth, still worse claiming I'm in favor of "Tyranny" because I think it's not a great thing that news organizations are rewarded for lying.

          • by JWW ( 79176 )

            That's the rub with standards and values though.

            They have to come down from "on high". They can initially be agreed upon by a group (when the group is small enough), but they will always trend towards having a smaller organization or a single selected leader defining them over time.

            The totally decentralized and fragmented nature of news and information on the web naturally resists any incursion of those standards and values.

            The people get what the people want, even if its not "good" for them. Good being d

    • When are people going to start demanding Authority AND Accountability instead of sound-bite entertainment?

      When a substantial majority of them are of above average intelligence.

    • A portion of the problem is that the quantity of news which is reported by "outlets" has dramatically increased in our modern era. We are flooded with a perpetual onslaught of new information from every corner of creation. And honestly, most of it isn't worth checking. What is worth checking? Stories that will ruin your reputation. Stories that might go viral and cripple your ability to report further. Know what's not? "5 Things you Need to Know about Cheese Curd" "How men need to step up their role
  • by Coditor ( 2849497 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:05AM (#45817951)
    and the cost of publishing fake news is also zero. In the early days of the web people thought that it would allow the truth to be easily discovered and that lies couldn't live long. The problem today is that there is no much information available that determining truth is extremely difficult - the noise is so high that a real signal is often lost. I wonder if in the future the amount of information is large enough that a truth analyzer could be built to assist in calculating a truth likeliness value for any given article.
    • >> a truth analyzer could be built

      In early April, Slashdot intends to reveal a browser plug-in to do just this.

    • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby AT comcast DOT net> on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:40PM (#45819095)

      Nonsense, it all boils down to human nature and people seeking out the 'truth' that matches their political views. People seek out the news that reinforces their views just as they always have. When a story comes along that reinforces your political views it's likely to get you read it because it confirms that you are "right".

      The problem is that nowadays with the Internet we can make the problem with self referential reinforcement all the worse. Facebook, google and other sources are constantly trying to customize your news to make a tailored experience for you that will ensure you have higher click-through rates. They find the stories that you tend to click on and give you more of the same, after a while the result is that you only tend to see like minded stories. Log into a fresh computer and the news while look very different than the one you already use.

      For example the gay waitress claiming to be insulted on a receipt - lots of people bought the story because they wanted to believe these things happen. Almost nobody bothered to check with the couple accused of the insult, and when they did they showed a credit card statement proving they left a good tip. People want to believe the things that confirm their political beliefs and they will seek out the news that does that and avoid the news that proves them wrong. It's human nature.

  • by Akratist ( 1080775 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:05AM (#45817959)
    Honestly, this seems like a natural consequence of the attempt of the news to be more "relevant and entertaining" and the need to compete with other varieties of the media, as well as the dislike of people to follow real, objective news (as opposed to news which satisfies their own cognitive biases). I've heard quite a few people express that the best places to get real news (outside of maybe the weather, and even that is getting goofy, with the Weather Channel naming snowstorms) is the foreign press, where they seem to be able to have more of a dividing line between what is actual news, and what is tabloid journalism.
    • the best places to get real news ... is the foreign press

      A foreign news service is without doubt the best source of relevant, hard, news (some might even say impartial news) about any given country. Provided you choose a source that has no agenda, enmity or axe to grind they will only report stuff that is important - rather than however much padding is needed to fill the next 15 minutes of rolling news - before the whole vapid cycle starts again.

      • by mlts ( 1038732 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:47AM (#45818723)

        Choosing foreign news sources is pretty much the only way to get decent, objective content about what is going on. European sources are a good bet, and even Al Jazeera has become a solid source of info. They are not completely unbiased, but the information is useful compared to the news channels in the US that (IMHO, of course), approach sensationalist fiction.

        Here in the US, it isn't about putting info on subscribers' screens. It is about putting stories up that get eyeballs and get people polarized. When in doubt, kick the old gun control thing around, or reinvent Terri Schiavo.

        As for Slashdot, nothing is perfect, but at least overt BS does get challenged in short order, which is one of the few places where that occurs.

  • The old way was that formal news could be trusted to a certain extent. Now we see that this isn't true. It is too late for the old people who can't learn new tricks, just like the passing generation that can't program their VCRs. (Yes, I date myself with that comparison.) The kids will grow up knowing to check things themselves. As a side note, I noticed just yesterday that Facebook sometimes has the Snopes article listed as a 'suggested link' just below someone's repost of a hoax link!
  • by rsmith-mac ( 639075 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:09AM (#45817981)

    Correction for TFS: Readers are cheap, the media is understaffed.

    All of this just goes to show that you get the news that you pay for. If you're not paying for your news, not only are you not the real customer, but you're not offering any kind of signal to the writer and publisher that rewards them for quality.

    Instead you're probably drawing your news from the 24 hour news cycle, which is the epitome of low quality TFA discusses. The 24 hour cycle offers no time for quality, and being entirely advertising based means that it trends towards sensationalism in order to keep viewers watching (and the ad dollars flowing in). Blogs for that matter aren't any better for largely the same reason, as they have the same instant-publishing goals and are equally prone to sensationalism.

    Real news takes time and money. Time to do research, and money to pay for staff and travel to go do that research. If the public won't pay for that, then the public won't get real news. It's as simple as that.

    Which is why it's all the more important to support newspapers, which are by and large the last bastion of quality reporting and research. They aren't perfect, but they're all that's left. If you care about the news then the single best thing you can do to help quality journalism thrive is to go buy your local paper (yes, buy; not read for free on their website). Only by giving the journalists in your community a paycheck, some time, and a bit of trust, will you get quality journalism. Otherwise if you aren't paying for your news, you're getting the news that you pay for.

    • I've watched the transition to online news over my lifetime, and I don't think your proposal would only work if the news provider was entirely funded by subscribers. i.e. no advertising or other revenue enhancements. With ad-funded news, you aren't the real customer either, you (specifically your attention) are the product. The current changes are just extensions of that trend towards complete crap that I've watched my whole life. Same applies to ad-funded entertainment.
    • by isorox ( 205688 )

      If you care about the news then the single best thing you can do to help quality journalism thrive is to go buy your local paper (yes, buy; not read for free on their website). Only by giving the journalists in your community a paycheck, some time, and a bit of trust, will you get quality journalism. Otherwise if you aren't paying for your news, you're getting the news that you pay for.

      I'm far too lazy for that, I have a subscription. It arrives every morning about 6AM, and I can glance at it over breakfast and read the occasional story. I feel bad that it's so cheap though.

    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      The problem though is the big paper pretty much just prints stories from the AP and opinion columns from other newspapers. I stopped getting the physical paper a couple of years ago. The front page had a local story or two and there was a half to one column of news from the AP on most of the pages. The rest was advertising with several pages of advertising in the center of the 'A' section. I could have created a 4 page 'newspaper' from just the AP articles in the 'A' section. I found more interesting storie

    • Except that the "Local" paper will never have the budget to tackle big stories. Reporters may be real journalists with the best intentions, they may be able to hit local issues which impact your life, but they can't get to DC to investigate the NSA which has more impact on your life than city council allowing a Hooters to be built.

      Large cities used to be able to do this to some degree. New York and Washington DC papers were right there, so there was no need to pump money into travel. For other "Newspapers

    • being entirely advertising based means that it trends towards sensationalism in order to keep viewers watching (and the ad dollars flowing in).

      What a cop out. There's plenty of ad revenue to be had with *just* quality reporting. It's not my fault they sell out their integrity for a few more pennies.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:12AM (#45818003)
    Most news stories get selected for their "viewer friendliness". Ones with graphic visuals are chosen over those that are abstract and intangible. The more gore (with a lower case G) the better and if you can get children and animals into the story, the better.

    So really there is no such thing as hoax news - just stories that aren't true. However, since hardly any of the reported news has any effect on the people watching it - and even less of it is something they could do anything about: whether they know about it, or not - it's mostly irrelevant what gets reported.

    That appears to be the opinions of the news broadcasters. The object is not so much to inform, but to get the proportion of the population that still believes in "news" (which is diminishing every day as stories become more trivial and inconsequential) to watch the advertisements before, during and after the show. And it is a show.

  • News (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:12AM (#45818007) Homepage

    Nope. There's always been bollocks on the news. That's kind of why a lot of people totally ignore it.

    Fact is, if I don't give a shit if celebrity X slept with celebrity Y, or happens to be gay, then it doesn't matter if the story is true or not... I won't read the story. The people who do hardly care if it's true or not.

    But this isn't "new". Most of the stuff you learned at school is absolute tripe. History is extremely revisionist. And most of the stuff that's on the news is so much bollocks that it doesn't matter. Those with a brain will be ignoring it *because* it's on the news, those without one will seek it out to consume it even if it's not on the news. Confirmation bias and all that.

    Hence why we have one celebrity taking websites and papers to court at the moment because he happens to share a real name with a convicted paedophile. I have had friends say it was him, though. They don't care enough to research even when the websites/papers involved are foreign and the news story in my country is about how he's taking them to court for mis-attributing the crime to himself.

    If you're stupid enough to live your life by news, then you're going to fall into this. You've expected them (but don't really care about it) to research their facts. You blindly believe them. It doesn't matter if you read the Sunday Sport (where the items revolve around aliens in the Royal Family and Elvis regenerating) or the The Sunday Times (where the items revolve around what business is expect to make $10bn when it floats next week on the basis of zero profit so far). All that changes is the area, the scale, and the reputation.

    In the UK, we have had one paper shut down for hacking into celebrities voicemail. People protested and sales dropped. The next week, that paper shut down and the owners opened a new one with the same staff but a different name. Almost immediately everyone bought into it and it replaced the other paper. Nobody CARES enough to actually bother about them being criminal liars.

    People do not watch the news to see the truth. They watch the news to have something to gossip about with other people who also watched the news. For centuries, it's been like that, and yet people still think you can judge a person by what *KIND* of newspaper they read.

    Sorry to tell you, but the news is EVEN MORE unreliable that my friend's Facebook posts... and today they include someone who's trying to tell me that because the New Year starts with a New Moon this is a) unusual (last happened 19 years ago! Odd, on a 28-day cycle, that it even happens that often, to be honest...), b) important or c) going to make any difference at all. Another has reposted a fake "lucky money" satirical rip-off of those posts that say if you repost it you will find money (and hasn't even noticed that "fungus shoe" isn't actually feng shui).

    Yet others are trying to tell me that having 5 Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays in a month is something that only happens every 823 years (er, actually, no - it happens nearly every year).

    And I honestly consider these people more reliable than the news. Hell, I consider the "QI" game show more reliable than many popular science outlets, even when it has admitted to having flaws in its answers (and actually contradicts its own answers).

    News has always been bollocks. The fact that professional outlets are falling for OTHER'S crap stories is the news here, rather than the crap they make up themselves.

  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:12AM (#45818011) Homepage

    BBC has just announced that an alien ship has just landed on Sochi winter olympics site.

    http://www.bbc.com/ [bbc.com]

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:22AM (#45818055) Journal
    Perhaps our tidy little lives are less likely to experience upset if we only read or listen to what we already agree with.
  • No surprise at all (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:29AM (#45818125)
    When programming that celebrates anti-intellectualism is the hottest thing on teevee (I'm looking at you, Duck Dynasty fans), it should come as no surprise at all that quality journalism is not something that sponsors are interested in buying. Bread and circuses...
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      When programming that celebrates anti-intellectualism is the hottest thing on teevee

      For a moment there I thought you were going to call out a specific news channel. But then I saw the rest of the comment and realized you weren't going to be fair and balanced.

    • Yes, because assuming that *your* take on culture is intellectually superior to someone else's is *so* soundly based on fact and logic. Pompous ass.
      • So your view is that Duck Dynasty is intellectually superior? The post was not so pompous as spot on. We, as in citizens of the US, glorify idiots and ridicule shows that might make us think (either through humor or drama). We enjoy the dumb, because it makes us feel superior. Each year the bar gets lower so yes, we are close to Bread and Circuses.

    • And your Kardashians are any better? At least the Robertson family EARNED their wealth by starting an actual company and working hard to make it successful long before there was a TV show about them.
  • by some old guy ( 674482 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:30AM (#45818135)

    Even if there was such a thing as good, accurate, impartial journalism it would be utterly wasted on 99% of the population.

    Even when a big scandal like Snowden/NSA, the IRS hit list, or Fast and Furious do get newsplay, the average person is merely annoyed at having their up to the minute live coverage of NASCAR or the Kardashians interrupted.

    People are idiots.

  • People have so much fun with all the purposeful news pranks on April Fools Day that the major news outlets decided to do it year round. See, the explanation was simple after all.
  • Codswallop. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roger Wilcox ( 776904 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:38AM (#45818213)

    This phenomenon is not new. The signal to noise ratio has been poor for millennia. I recall an adage: "Believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see." The Internet has merely made this truth more apparent.

    If you think about it, the Internet might actually give us an advantage over our ancestors in this regard--fact-checking and cross-referencing are easier now than ever before.

    Of course, none of that excuses charlatan media corporations that publish bullshit stories in order to generate hits.

    On the other hand, they are only tarnishing their own credibility, and if they continue to do so they will eventually be viewed as sleazy tabloids. And if that's the image they want to project, there isn't much we can do about it. Some people like that stuff.

  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:25AM (#45818551)

    For years, traditional news outlets have headed in the direction of airing or printing stories designed solely to elicit a reaction from the audience. The pattern has become, 1) Say something provacative. 2) Invite a reaction (tell us what YOU think). It's all designed to sell more ads. What is happening now is the logical, inevitable conclusion of this pattern. The old saying still appies, however. If something is too good to be true, it probably isn't. And I would extend that to say that if something is too bad to be true, it probably isn't. It will get worse before it gets better. After years of being essentially lied to from every direction we will, out of desperation, start to believe only what we want to believe, and assume that everything else is a lie.

  • I find it kind of hillarious that an article talking about the rise and proliferation of bogus / clickbait headlines is being posted on slashdot of all things. I had sort of assumed that slashdot was where rising clickbait article writers came to cut their chops before venturing off into the blogosphere.

  • The decline of traditional journalism using multiple sources and editors is the other side of this coin. Watch the movie All the Presidents Men for how they did it in the classic days of journalism. They could not print a story without a second source, even if it was a secret source like Deep Throat. These days, half of tweeted article turn out wrong, een if they are distributed much faster. Basically I wat to see it in the NY Times or Washington Post before I believe something.
  • > They seemed too tidily packaged, too neat, 'too good to check,' as they used to say, to actually be true.

    I think in some cases, that the editors really wanted the stories to be true plays a part. It's not difficult to create fake news that the major news outlets will carry -- just tell them what they want to hear.

  • You can't believe anything that comes out of the MSM news outlets, be it Faux New, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC etc.. The ONLY news outlets you can half way believe are the alternative news media. The MSM news outlets are ALL controlled by corporate interests and all put either a far right or far left spin on EVERYTHING!!

    • I didn't know the Flying Spaghetti Monster had a Multigrain cousin.

      Now, you're being silly if you think that "alternative news media" exist. Bloggers aren't known for their investigative reporting prowess. Your best bet nowadays is to read multiple sources with conflicting biases. I'm a fan of Al Jazeera, Xinhua, and BBC, among others.
  • Wow, they just caught on to this? Drew's had time to prove the point, write a book about it, and make a big wad of cash off it!

    Rumors that he blew all the money on Heineken, Maker's Mark and hookers should be considered spurious, however.

  • You misspelled Fox News

    • I keep hearing people bitching about this Benghazi thing. It's been a while, but I still have no idea what all the controversy is about. My understanding is that our embassy got attacked, and the administration came out with one explanation for why it happened, but it turns out that there was another, better explanation in hindsight. Assuming that's correct, what's the cause for all the outrage? Why are people still muttering about impeaching Obama over this issue?
  • because a lot of people give the mass media way too much credibility.
  • by slew ( 2918 )

    As I remember hearing in a journalism conference once upon a time: Noteworthy-Entertainment-With-Substance
    This has now apparently morphed into: Narcissistic-Enterprise-With-Sarcasm

    Sad, as journalism used to be a fun endeavor. You had to juggle 3 things, your sponsors, your subscribers, and your conscience to produce the best product you can. Now there are no subscribers and the advertising revenue are supplied by 3rd parties in bulk (e.g., adwords, and similar platforms) so you are left with only the consc

  • Sounds like a Portlandia Skit [jimromenesko.com].

A university faculty is 500 egotists with a common parking problem.