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In the class I teach about Internet safety called “Fight the Internet bad guys and win,” I recently felt the need to add a section about fake news stories. I’m not talking about the “fake news stories” the pundits were in a tizzy about during the latest elections; I’m talking about the fake news stories that started years ago, sweeping across the Internet like a plague of locusts.
I seem to recall, about 5 or 6 years ago, rows of small rectangles masquerading as news stories began appearing on popular websites. Blaring provocative headlines, these deceptive little con jobs have spread unchecked, infecting websites of all kinds, with websites like Yahoo, MSN and AOL seemingly leading the charge. Even revered “real” news sites like CNN, Fox News, NBC and the Huffington Post are guilty of hosting what are called “Around the Web ads,” or “native advertising,” sometimes with headers that say, “recommended for you,” “you may have missed,” or, “you might also like.”
Preying on the same mindset exploited years ago by the National Inquirer and other supermarket tabloids (“Inquiring minds want to know”), millions of curious Internet users around the world have been suckered in by these most devious of fake news stories. Lurid headlines lure clueless clickers to trouble with teasers like: ‘Trophy wives of older billionaires; Dog The Bounty Hunter’s ex-wife Is unrecognizable; How to outsmart heavy credit card debt; How to fix aging skin; A stunningly simple solution to snoring; 10 celebs who lost their hot bodies; The most addicting shopping site ever; 11 weird facts about dogs; How to fix your fatigue (do this every day); The surprising truth behind life insurance; Forget Social Security if you own a home; Ever Googled yourself? Try this, instead;” and, the one everybody has been dying to find out about, “Why everyone is buying these $24 yoga pants.”
When people fall into the rabbit hole of clicking this garbage, they often find themselves led to sites trying to sell them something they never wanted in the first place. Unavoidable popups claiming to have found numerous viruses and outdated “drivers,” as well as ways to have those phony problems repaired, are the norm. Many fake news stories lead to bogus sites that will actually install viruses in the victim’s computer. Twice while writing this story I visited Yahoo, only to be greeted by a giant popup insisting I install a virus pretending to be a “critical” Firefox update patch.
Where do people go who simply want to read the news of the day, without putting themselves at risk? Very few news sites exist that have no advertising at all, since that’s how most sites make money. There are, however, a handful with ads that are clearly marked as such, that I deem much safer than the rest of the riffraff. For local news, I always start with the Norman Transcript’s own site at www.normantranscript.com.
For national and global news, there are a few I consider choice, having the least annoying advertising that is clearly marked, free of fake news stories, and the least biased, as well. Google News (news.google.com) is a good place to start, as they aggregate news from many sources covering every imaginable topic.
The Associated Press website (https://apnews.com), the Wall Street Journal (wsj.com) and Reuters (www.reuters.com) round out my list of mostly-neutral, safe news websites. I also really enjoy the Allsides website (www.allsides.com). Allsides is divided into three columns: From the Left, From the Center, and From the Right. It then covers the news of the day, linking to sites from all three “sides,” in the most inclusive news effort I’ve ever seen. It’s a very interesting approach.
Finally, go to Google and search for “Medium, and the reason you can’t stand the news anymore.” You will find the Medium website, and a brilliant article by Sean Blanda, one that describes the current situation of news and the Internet in a way that excels beyond all others.