The internet has something of a fake news problem.
In the months leading up to the US election, it’s believed that fake news stories generated more engagement than factual news stories from the likes of New York Times, Washington Post and Huffington Post – with the 20 top performers gaining some 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. That’s over a million more than the comparative top ‘real’ news stories.
So what can you do about it? Gnash your teeth and lob your laptop out the window every time you click on a headline you realise to be total bollocks? Effective, but expensive.
A more productive solution has been provided by New York Magazine's Brian Feldman, who’s developed a tool for the Google Chrome browser that will flag fake news stories before you get the chance to read them and fall for their beguiling charms.
The Chrome extension, called Fake News Alert, shows a pop-up alert when you visit a site known for spreading fake news. It won’t block it, nor tell you to turn away, but just give a helpful nudge that not everything you’re about to read is real.
The tool works by drawing on a list of unreliable or misleading websites created by media studies professor Melissa Zimdars. “Zimdar’s list is expansive, and includes everything from popular satire sites to strongly partisan blogs and aggregators to utterly false bottom-feeders,” explains Feldman. “It’s already been edited to remove some sites that might have been unfairly brought up in the dragnet, and we’re trying to update the extension as the list itself is updated. Remember, the extension doesn’t block the sites themselves, just offers a small reminder and warning. Better safe than sorry!”
Zimdars list of sites has come under criticism though, with users point out that his selection of sites doesn’t include many left-leaning groups, nor does it flag the satire of the likes of The Onion. Feldman admits the current build of the extension is basic, and invites those with the coding know-how to improve upon the project.
It’s not perfect, it’s not neutral – but it’s a start. You can download it for your Chrome browser right here.