Fake News Is Old News To Gossip Cop
“Fake News” is old news to Gossip Cop. We spotted this malignant trend beginning to grow online as far back as a decade ago, and it’s precisely the reason we led the charge to combat it when we launched this site nearly eight years ago. Here’s what “Fake News” is, and what we can do about it.
It’s important, however, to first delineate between bad reporting and deceptive stories. While we in no way condone inaccurate journalism, we understand that sometimes even the best practitioners’ sources are occasionally wrong, and what results in the end is an untrue story. Conversely, purposely deceptive articles, which are now referred to as “Fake News,” actually start with an untrue premise, and are not predicated on information from credible sources.
Now that we’ve established what is “Fake News,” let’s drill it down to its two subsets. There is fake news that’s wholly manufactured and published on websites that tend to have domain names that sound like legitimate news outlets. And then there are seemingly legitimate outlets that publish made-up articles about real-life individuals. We’ll explore the second group in a bit.
For a brief time, Gossip Cop repeatedly debunked death hoaxes begun by that first group of outlets, which included Global Associated News, for example. For the most part, these fake news stories often claimed certain celebrities “died” as a result of an accident. Among the most popular accidents employed by Global Associated News were an actor falling off a cliff in New Zealand while filming a movie or skiing on vacation in Zermatt, Switzerland. Eddie Murphy “died” so many times in Zermatt, we jokingly suggested to his rep that maybe the comedian should give up skiing.
In 2014, Gossip Cop busted fake news from Facebook that falsely alleged Miley Cyrus was dead. That same year, the Internet killed off Wayne Knight, who played Newman on “Seinfeld.” A specious site called “TMZ.Today,” which was created to confuse consumers into thinking it was the actual TMZ, claimed Knight died in a car crash. To be sure, Gossip Cop pointed out and corrected scores of other similar fake news stories.
This particular type of fake news proliferated on social media during this past election cycle. Several websites with domain names that sounded like TV or radio stations posted untrue tales to sway voters. For instance, one guilty outlet has the address “abcnews.com.co,” and throughout the election season it falsely led visitors to believe they were reading legitimate news from ABC. But, as noted, this nefarious practice has been around since well before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were nominated by their respective parties.
So why the proliferation of fake news? The answer is manifold. In addition to fooling the public and/or pushing an agenda, fake news is, for the most part, about unscrupulous greed. And this is where that second subset particulary profits. The seemingly legitimate outlets that make up fake news articles are, at the same time, lining their pockets and ironically being rewarded as trusted authorities by the same social media companies and search engines they’re duping.
Basically, search engines and social media reward unique content that is often measured by popularity, with indices such as how many links or likes it accrues. The more links or likes a story racks up, the more likely it will appear higher up in searches or in feeds. Ironically, the more an outlet dupes its readers, the more likely the very search engines and social media it used to perpetuate its falsehood will reward the site as an authority. The net result is that regardless of whether its stories are 100 percent true or 100 percent fabricated, that site is now considered credible and has a better chance up rising to the top of feeds and searches.
The more traffic an outlet gets, the more revenue it will generate. In essence, some sites are using this formula to concoct untrue posts and cash in. Here’s how it’s done: Webloids, as we call them, either take a newsworthy individual or a preexisting news story, and then add fake “exclusive” angles to it. Of course, if the outlet had such good “sources” in the first place, presumably it would have broken the original story upon which its new, phony “exclusives” are based.
For instance, moments after Angelina Jolie announced her split from Brad Pitt, the site HollywoodLife magically had a slew of “exclusives” about the two, which were and, with the passage of time, remain provably untrue and made up. Among the earliest and most egregious examples was a fake news story that same day, claiming George Clooney was lending Pitt support through the breakup. The problem, however, was Clooney wasn’t even aware of the couple’s split when HollywoodLife posted its fabricated article.
After a number of these phony reports were published, Gossip Cop wrote a piece simply titled, “Brad Pitt Stories Made Up By HollywoodLife.” As mentioned above, these articles didn’t end up being wrong; they started with untrue premises.
Additionally, RadarOnline, which publishes some accurate celebrity reports, also peppers its content with fake news stories. For more than a year, the webloid has falsely alleged Kim Kardashian and Kayne West were on the verge of divorcing. And statistically speaking, one day that may happen. However, the outlet has churned out one fake news story after another about them hiring matrimonial attorneys and hammering out divorce details.
Not only has time (so far) proven RadarOnline wrong, but Gossip Cop also knows these tales are untrue because the webloid has never bothered to fact-check its claims with Kardashian’s reps. Five months ago, when the site posted yet another article about the couple being moments away from divorcing, we published the story, “RadarOnline Doesn’t Fact-Check Its False Kim Kardashian, Kanye West Divorce Claims, Says Rep.” Sadly, we’re told nothing has changed since then.
So, what can be done about this fake news problem? Well, we’re all in this together. Gossip Cop will continue to fact-check stories. Meanwhile, consumers need to stop reading and sharing articles from outlets that routinely manufacture fake news stories. And importantly, other outlets need to stop linking to and crediting the fake news factories. While they themselves may not be the producer of fake news, they’re becoming its distributors.
Often Gossip Cop hears, “So what, it’s celebrity reporting? Who cares if it’s wrong?” The answer is everyone should care because a few seemingly innocuous, though entirely fabricated Brad Pitt and Kim Kardashian stories, for example, have paved the way for others to post decidedly deceptive political stories. That seemingly unimportant slippery slope snowballed, and now the web is trying to dig itself out of this avalanche of misinformation.
We’re not SEO specialists at Gossip Cop. We’re not skilled developers at Gossip Cop. We are, however, dedicated journalists. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t been able to fully stop this fake news epidemic from growing. But we hope you consumers and other content distributors join us in this fight.