January 21, 2018

Fake News – REAL Fake News – Can Be a Public Health Hazard

One of the most notorious fake news websites in the United States published a fake news story that the flu shot caused people to die in a flu outbreak. The fake story has since gone viral and has been copied by multiple fake news websites, including ones based in Macedonia.

YourNewsWire, a notorious fake news site, fabricates a story that a flu shot caused a “deadly flu epidemic”.

By Alex Kaplan / 01.19.2018

On January 15, the website, YourNewsWire, published a reckless piece headlined “CDC Doctor: ‘Disastrous’ Flu Shot Is Causing Deadly Flu Outbreak.” The piece dubiously claimed an anonymous “CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] doctor” had said “this year’s ‘disastrous’ flu shot may be responsible for the deadly flu epidemic,” adding that this supposed doctor also said, “Some of the patients I’ve administered the flu shot to this year have died…I don’t care who you are, this scares the crap out of me.” In reality, the opposite is true: As fact-checker Snopes noted two days later, the CDC encourages Americans to get the flu shot and maintains that it is in fact safe. Snopes also noted that YourNewsWire “often uses fictional quotes [to] juice up the clickbait value of their stories.”

Nonetheless, the wildly irresponsible fake story has gone viral. As of the publication of this article, the fake story has received more than 176,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. The story appears to be having an impact; some of the responses to the fake story on YourNewsWire’s Facebook pages have included reactions along the lines that the story vindicated “why I have not had the flu shot since 1990.” The fake story has also been copied by multiple other fake news websitessome of which are from Macedonia, which pushed the fake story onto Facebook as well.

YourNewsWire’s foray into blatantly putting lives at risk comes as the website continues to regularly publish hoaxes, including some of the most viral fake stories of 2017. Thanks to the ad network Revcontent, YourNewsWire is able to make money off of lies, including ones such as this article that dangerously threaten public safety. Until recently, YourNewsWire’s two associated Facebook pages were verified, lending its lies legitimacy; Facebook finally appears to have un-verified one of them.

Some Fake News Websites Finally Losing Verification Status on Facebook

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Some fake news websites are losing their verification status on their Facebook pages. If the pattern continues and Facebook is finally taking this meaningful action against the dissemination of fake news, it would be a welcome move by the social media platform.

Previously, Facebook had given a grey check mark to the Facebook page of fake news website Neon Nettle and blue check marks to the page of fake news website Freedom Daily and to The People’s Voice, a page operated by the owners of fake news website YourNewsWire. Facebook’s policy states that the purpose of the blue check mark next to a name is simply to confirm that the page is “the authentic Page” for a “public figure, media company or brand” and that the grey check mark indicates that it’s an “authentic Page for this business or organization.” But the symbols, like Twitter’s verification system, lend legitimacy to these pages and their posts.

As of January 18, the pages for Freedom DailyNeon Nettle, and The People’s Voice no longer have check marks on their pages. It seems unlikely that multiple fake news website pages would lose their verifications within a seemingly similar span of time without Facebook’s involvement. This would also not be the first time Facebook penalized a fake news website’s page: In November, fake news website Liberty Writers’ verified page was taken down and its links blocked on Facebook. On the other hand, the changes do not guarantee that these pages will remain unverified; in November, YourNewsWire mysteriously lost its grey check mark, but it soon was restored.

If Facebook has decided to stop enabling fake news websites through its verification process, it has more work to do: Multiple other pages of fake news websites that Media Matters has noted are verified remain verified alongside YourNewsWire, such as American NewsConservative TribuneEagle RisingRight Wing NewsThe Political Insider, and Prntly. The possible moves taken so far against these types of pages, if permanent, would be a positive step by Facebook, and is one of the steps Media Matters recommended Facebook take toward solving its fake news problem when it named Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg 2017’s Misinformer of the Year.

Facebook’s fake news problem remains deep, but denying a stamp of authenticity to websites that push blatant falsehoods would help.

Originally published by Media Matters as a 501(c)(3) non-profit.