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Lessons from The New York Times Super Tuesday hoax: Five ways to spot fake news

Fake articles mostly go under the radar, but have the potential to cause lasting damage. Here are some red flags to help spot them

(This article was originally published by the First Draft News Coalition. Check out their site for guides, tips and tools for debunking misinformation online.)

On the eve of Super Tuesday, a New York Times article made the rounds on social media reporting that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. The only problem: It was fake.

The New York Times released a statement and others debunked the fake on Tuesday, as people were headed to the polls, but by that point the fake article “had been viewed more than 50,000 times, with 15,000 shares on Facebook,” the Times reported.

This is just the most recent in a long line of fake news reports which have swept through social media in recent years. Last year Twitter’s share price spiked after a fake Bloomberg article claimed that Google was considering buying the social media platform. In 2012, Wikileaks created a fake New York Times op-ed from then-Times-editor Bill Keller defending Wikileaks in what appeared to be a change of position from his earlier statements about the group. The fake was so convincing that even New York Times journalists were sharing it on Twitter.

This kind of hoax isn’t limited to the web. Just a few weeks ago a pro-Palestinian grouphanded out fake versions of the New York Times to highlight what it believes is the Time’s bias against Palestinians. In 2008 the Yes Men distributed thousands of copies of a 14-page fake New York Times all over New York City. The paper declared the end of the Iraq war on the front page.

Online it is increasingly simple for activists and pranksters to spoof the look and feel of a major news website and these fakes can have real impacts from Wall Street to the voting booth. However, in each of these past cases there has been some clear giveaways that are instructive for anyone who wants to spot fakes in the future. Continue reading

The Missed Opportunity of Newspaper Endorsements

Research, both scholarly and anecdotal, suggests that newspaper endorsements make little difference in the minds of readers. This fact led Edward Morrissey at The Week to argue that “Newspaper endorsements are at best meaningless anachronisms, and at worst damaging to the newspapers themselves.” Given this, Morrissey asks, why do it?

However, what if, instead of scraping the newspaper endorsement we re-imagined it? Could we make it work better?

Over the past week the New York Times endorsed President Obama for a second term and the Des Moines Register endorsed Governor Romney, the first time they have endorsed a Republican since Nixon. The endorsements were very different in tone and style, but they had one thing in common: There were no links in the web version of either editorial.

While the reticence of some newspapers to link, especially to articles outside their own archives, has been well documented I think the lack of links in most, if not all, newspaper endorsements is a missed opportunity. Continue reading