Featured Resource: Most Students Cannot Distinguish Fake and Real News (Wall Street Journal) 
A Stanford University study found that 82% of middle school students could not distinguish between an advertisement labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a news homepage, highlighting the challenge of distinguishing between fact and fiction.

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What are potential consequences when fake news goes viral? #DoNowFakeNews

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Digital Deception

It comes as little surprise that the web is chock full of commercial click-bait hoaxes: get-rich-quick schemes, free Caribbean cruises, erectile dysfunction treatments … you name it.

But as it turns out, the internet is also teeming with bogus information sites that masquerade as real news. And in the run-up to the 2016 election, many of these hoax news posts spread like wildfire. [Snopes, a fact-checking site, maintains a comprehensive and growing list of fake news outlets.]

President-elect Donald Trump’s contempt for “the mainstream media,” an industry he uniformly dismisses as a corrupt, lying “bunch of phony lowlifes,” has further obscured the boundaries between fact and fiction. So, too, has his use of Twitter to widely disseminate unsubstantiated allegations and, on numerous occasions, downright falsehoods.

One recent notably viral fake news headline espoused an utterly baseless conspiracy theory that a Washington, D.C. family-friendly pizza place was actually a front for a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. Michael Flynn, Jr., son of retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — Trump’s pick for national security adviser, and a Clinton-related conspiracy theorist himself — further promoted the story, while serving on Trump’s transition team, by sharing it with his thousands of Twitter followers. The younger Flynn has since been removed from the transition team due to his aggressive trolling habit.

But the bogus rumor, which became known as Pizzagate, had some serious ramifications when a man armed with an assault rifle entered the restaurant on Sunday, Dec. 4 and fired several shots in what he later told police was an attempt to “self-investigate” the claim (there were no reported injuries).

To what degree the overall proliferation of fake news affected the election results remains unclear. But it almost certainly did have some impact, particularly on undecided voters.

What are potential consequences when fake news goes viral? Do you think you could spot fake news or would you be fooled? Why or why not?

More Resources

ARTICLE: The Honest Truth About Fake News (The Lowdown/KQED)
Fake news is nothing new. Read more about how it’s recent impact on the 2016 election, its roots in yellow journalism, and more research examining student

AUDIO: Hearing From a Fake News Creator (NPR/Listenwise)
Fake news stories with clickable headlines that millions of people read and share have become a focus during the U.S. Presidential Election. People who run fake news sites make a lot of money from advertising. The identities of these fake news creators can be hard to track. In this story a reporter pursued one story to its creator to learn about why he started writing fake news. Listen to hear more about how untrue news goes viral, and who creates these stories.

AUDIO: Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Fake News Edition (On the Media/WNYC)
Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communications and media and Merrimack College, created a guide to help identify fake news websites and stories. Hear more about how it was developed.

ARTICLE: Facebook Is Turning to Fact-Checkers To Fight Fake News (Buzzfeed)
Fake news often spreads on social media through algorithmic curation and an accumulation of likes and shares. Read more about Facebook’s efforts to combat the phenomenon.

Find best practices for using Do Now, using Twitter for teaching, and using other digital tools.

  • alejandra

    Some of the consequences that can happen when fake news goes viral is that people are educated incorrectly. Many rumors can go around with these fake news stories. It can go as far as a person possibly being harmed. These news stories can have negative false information toward a person and many people believe it and go as far as harming the person mentally and physically.

  • Aileen Carranza

    Consequences that occur when fake news go viral is there could be an unnecessary uproar that could cause violence or something worse. It could also cause panic or unnecessary embarrassment towards a group of people.

  • Linda miller

    Potential consequences are people actually believing it and then reacting in a bad way that can harm others and themselves.

  • Craig

    The consequences that could occur from fake news is it evolving to something its not. It could possibly get the publicity it doesn’t need

  • Marissa Diaz

    Some consequences of fake news going viral is unnecessary drama. Fake news creates many rumors and causes conflict between groups and individuals, causing issues to rise that aren’t actually issues to be concerned about.

  • Jordan Whalum

    The consequences that are people are not getting the right information and are believing in something that is false education. With all of this false information being spread around could lead to dangerous things. Majority of these fake news stories bring out negativity to people around the world that are clicking on these sites. Giving money to false authors for their work that could be harming someone’s life.

  • Freddy Ortiz

    Possible consequences when fake news go viral can cause pandemonium in the public. When truth is overshadowed by fiction, the seeds of hate, violence, and confusion blossom bringing about unpredictable courses of action in reaction to false information perceived to be true. In worse cases lives could be ruined and taken. Anyone could be misled, we all must keep in mind the the internet is like a playground, there are bullies, bystanders, and victims. Don’t be either, be the person who defends and adheres too the truth.

  • Cali Smith

    When fake news is shared rumors are spread and unnecessary conflict can arise. The rumors that are continuously spread by fake news sites can become bigger and blown out of proportion.

  • Ben LI

    When fake new go viral it create a atmosphere where people are gossiping which can cause conflict. When fake new spread it can start as a small issue then blow to to being a huge thing. Some people might be affected and it can cause people problem. Some people suicide because there was fake information about them that lead them to depression. People need to stop spreading rumor to prevent future consequence.

  • Julian Kirk

    Idlely fake news should not exist but since it does I believe that it is the job of more educated people to share their knowledge and NOT their opinions unless they are asked for them, with others. If other people educate other people about fake news, less of it may cause problems. Fake news being spread around by less educated people can cause a lot of problems including unneeded arguments or violence or both. The more educated people need to try and teach and reason with the less educated people about what is and isn’t fake news and how to tell them apart in the future so they know what news not to spread because it is fake news.

  • Madyson Emory

    Just some of the potential consequences of fake news being spread can be things like various forms of hate (if the article is making it out to seem if one or more people are doing something morally wrong or downright illegal), possibly some kind of legal action or person to be involved in a case that isn’t there, or just generally ruin a person’s reputation. Many actions can come out of fake news being spread – it’s hard to be able to pin them all down.

  • Sergio Guzman

    Potential consequences of fake news can lead viewers to panic or take action on something quick without thinking clearly. It can persuade their viewers t feel a certain way about a certain topic. Fake news hurts young education by giving them falsed information and can hurt people by doing this.

  • Alita Stukel

    Fake and misleading news gong viral could cause public outrages and issues, and unneeded arguments. it could make small issues blow up and could ruin the reputation of others. It could also cause issues at public events and even make the situation, if there is one, worse

  • Julia Haro

    Most of the times when people make fake news they talk about of what people want to hear, since they are writing interesting stuff like rumors, etc. people keep looking at them, they even share them because they think it is true and nothing can make those news disappear from social media. Fake news may cause several problems because all of it are lies and people believe they are true.

  • Daniela Jimenez

    Some potential consequences of viral misleading and fake news can lead readers to believe that they are indeed real stories and share them and now you have thousands if not millions of people believing that misleading/fake news. it could lead to some one if not groups of people getting harmed or harassed.

  • Foster Dennin

    I think that fake news is really a problem, and it cannot be ignored. Knowledge is power, and while yes it is an everyday saying, it is the key to success in life. Having more knowledge, being proficient at analyzing situations and using information is important to every aspect of society. I’ve been following some stories about Facebook and other media giants trying to fight against it, but it is a difficult task. There is so much fake news know, and it is hard to distinguish what is real and what is not. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-technology-cant-win-the-fight-against-fake-news-on-its-own-2017-01-10 In an even harsher realization, a great deal of news is not full truths. For example, Ryan Locate’s “assault” that occurred in the Rio Olympics was spread everywhere. Sympathy poured in and investigators were on it. But as things unravelled it was revealed that Locate was not honest and it was a bad situation for everyone. This reality is hard to accept, but I think we must all take it upon ourselves to search out news stories and clarify if what we’re reading is fact…or fiction.

  • Sean Hemmersmeier

    Fake news is troublesome because it results in the public being misinformed. If public is misinformed about major stories they will not react in appropriate ways. Instead they will act in ways that can be harmful like the way the person used an assault rifle in a pizza place because of the false story that was Pizzagate. Fake News works against what major journalists work for. Fake News can cloud real news by putting in a sea of obscurity.

  • cschaf

    The potential consequences of fake news include the spread of irrational and untrue ‘facts’ to those unaware, it also teaches youths to use any source, rather than finding the credible sources. Most recently, fake news has been spread through social media, through the ‘sharing’, ‘retweeting, ‘ posting’ and ‘dm-ing’ false reports. Some of these are due to the lack of fact checking provided by the site, the other issue is people’s inability to read the full story before sharing with others. We are the generation of skimming and speed reading in order so we can get the general idea, but not all of the details. In the long run we need to be more aware and cautious when reading and sharing stories.
    For the future we should all try to follow the points provided on: https://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/2016/12/06/the-honest-truth-about-fake-news-with-lesson-plan/ whenever we are questioning the authenticity and factual realities of a story.

  • Joey Mancini

    Fake news is a large problem that has taken over nearly every social media site. Fake news sites share links to other fake news stories, and they are visited by more and more people each day. The more times the fakes news stories are viewed, the higher up they appear in Google searches when people are looking for serious, legitimate information. This amount of fake news can seriously affect the opinions of our generations because they will be ill-informed. The information presented in fake news stories do not come from reliable sources or trusted journalist, they come from people who want people to have the wrong facts. We cannot let the age of fake news continue.

  • Jack Boomer

    I think that the media is corrupt. They are just out for a quick buck and will do and say anything to get more viewers and subsequently more money. Just look at Brian Williams, an anchor who was revered as one of the best journalists of his time. He was embellishing his stories to make them more exciting just to get more viewers. Also, big news corporations are putting their political bias in their news broadcasting, manipulating the public from forming their own opinions. Most news companies lean toward the liberal side like CNN, but their are other news companies like FOX News that inserts their conservative viewpoints into their stories. We need good, honest, unbiased news to help the public be informed. We need more Walter Kronkites and Katie Courics to provide the news we need to hear.

  • M Oliver

    Fake news is poisoning society. The problem is that people don’t know what’s real and what’s fake anymore. This leads people to believe and form opinions off of unreliable, inaccurate, or blatantly false news. On top of that, the media that does exist has become fairly biased, towards one side or the other. People need to see direct sources and form their own opinions off of them. When people are force-fed information, we begin to accept it without question, which is a dangerous thing to do whenever we are presented with information. People have stopped questioning things. In order for the next generation to be more informed, we must learn to be critical of any information we receive.

    • KatieScott

      I agree with Mary, fake news is poisoning society, but I think that there is an extent to where we should be able to distinguish fake and credible. We have become so lazy when it comes to checking our sources, researching the topic, or even reading any comments that may inform you about misleading or false information. If we just put the effort into distinguishing our news, checking our sources then we wouldn’t have this problem. As a result from our laziness, journalists now know they can falsify stories, make ridiculous claims, or exaggerate stories and get away with it. Obama made a great statement about fake news. “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not — and particularly in an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in soundbites and snippets off their phones — if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” he said. “If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. We won’t know what to fight for. And we can lose so much of what we’ve gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market-based economies and prosperity that we’ve come to take for granted.”

  • Chad Thach

    What are potential consequences when fake news goes viral? People would be scared of what is going to happen. Like if someone posted something that is fake that looks very real something like, “We are going to be Attacked.” There would be people believing their claim. Since most kids around our age get our information from social media, more people that see about it and talk about it. They would think it is true. People would be scared for something that is fake. The danger is highly at risk.

  • James Cordy

    If fake news is being spread and it becomes viral it could be consequential because some may believe it and continues spreading it could be thought of as real and cause people to act on it which wouldn’t be good because that could be something like “Russia plans attack on US!” and then we attack Russia even though they did nothing. It could cause massive fights.

  • Christine Nguyen

    A potential consequence when fake news goes viral is making people fearful of the fake news. There are big, real problems in the world, and adding fake news to the mix seems a little too much for a person to take. Also, maybe if you post something threatening the government, you might face jail time. The country would be conflicted with all the different fears and may result in a war with other enemy nations, who will take advantage of our fear.

  • Annie Tran

    Spreading fake news has dire consequences. For example, if a person was to post something that is not true under the benefit of receiving money for themselves, the readers would believe false things, and would react very harshly. If it were fake news about a social celebrity or organization, such as the 2016 election where there were fake news articles sprouting lies about the candidates, people would get angry and have their opinions and attitudes swayed toward the targets, even though the news is fake. This is similar to gossip and spreading rumors in schools or areas of education – it isn’t healthy. People will also be fearful if the news headline were to read, for example, “US MARINE CORPS HEADED TO ATTACK RUSSIA”. The citizens of both Russia and the US will be scared and frightened over the fake news. It might also spark war between different nations, causing chaos for the countries. Having fake news passed around from screen to screen or from ear to ear is highly dangerous. #DoNowFakeNews #FreshFakeNews

  • Valentina Valverde

    Rumors and misinformation have always existed. However, with the internet becoming our main information source, fake news articles are becoming a big problem. I believe people fall for this articles because they are published in the same platform as legitimate news, making it hard for people to distinguishing between the two. This confusion has already caused a dangerous situation when, as the article above states, a man felt it was his duty to investigate a pizza place after reading a fake news article accusing the restaurant of conducting illegal activities. The best way to prevent these things from happening is to educate the public on how to identify fake headlines, how to check sources, and to think twice before sharing a news article.

  • Alex Truong

    Some potential consequences when fake news go viral are misleading information(which also spreads the fake news even faster), anxiety, and panic. This is because about 88% of young adults use social media as their main information source, which makes it highly reliable and trustworthy for them. For example, many people have believed that Hillary Clinton has been supporting ISIS, which is not the truth. Fake news could be used as a potential threat because a fake Barack Obama on Twitter could say,”ISIS is invading the USA! Please evacuate immediately!” which could make people frightened, and panicked. In the end, a way to prevent fake news from fooling many people is to educate the public on how to verify sources and double check the information in the source.

  • Ryan La

    These days, you just can’t trust anything you see on the internet. Now if fake news goes viral, there are some pretty major consequences. If people believe the news, the fake info goes everywhere until you can’t tell whether the news are real or fake. If government officials also get tricked, the fake news goes from a joke, to a crisis in a matter of days. Fake news that go viral are a serious problem, it takes a lot of effort to convince the public that the news is fake. If you come across some potential fake news, make sure you spread the news that the article is fake. You might not get recognized for it but in the end, you’ll know that you stopped a catastrophe.

  • Michael Van Gelder

    if it goes viral the wrong information can get out and it can lead to many people believing the wrong thing and potentially get someone in trouble. I could easily be fooled by fake news if enough thought was put into, if its easily distinguishable then i wouldnt be fooled.

  • Emma

    When fake news goes viral, a lot of bad things can happen. In the example of Pizzagate, an armed man came and ¨self-investigated¨a fake story. Someone could have gotten really hurt. This has become a bigger issue than in the past, because it is easier to come across in today’s society. In the past, there was simply yellow journalism, but now it is a flourishing career. Most fake news stories come from the Macedonia area, and are really successful. The top 20 fake news elections stories got more revenue than the top 20 real news stories. People even say that the amount of fake news on Facebook during the election affected the results. Now, Facebook is trying to make things better. They are allowing multiple third party sites to oversee their stories. They will place warnings and analyze the links to see if they are credential or not. Other safe guards would be to spread awareness of this issue. If people do not know about it, then we defiantly can not fix it. This also ties to my point of education. Educating people on how to spot fake news and use their resources can be game changing.

  • Keandra

    Fake news can cause many problems. People are unaware that news is fake and they share it, so it will quickly spread among their friends. One example of this was when denverguardian.com posted a story that included the death of an FBI agent who had knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. This fake article got over half a million reactions. This story was released shortly before election day, and may have swayed many Americans’ votes. In the Pizzagate incident a man shot up a pizza place to self-investigate the place. He did this because of a fake article he had read. Fake news can change the view people have towards certain things. To prevent the spread of fake news people should think about an article before sharing it. Always fact-check an article that you’re not 100% sure is legit. Google and Facebook are making an attempt to get rid of all fake news that shows up on their sites.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mgreen@kqed.org; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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