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Fake News: Social Media

Understanding the Fake News Ecosystem

Think before you link

Social Media and Fake News

What is the relationship between social media and fake news?

Fake news spreads through:

  • sharing links on social media by individuals. Always verify and evaluate articles before posting.
  • fake social media accounts powered by social bots

What is a bot? How do bots influence social media?

A social bot is a computer algorithm programmed to produce content and interact with humans on social media, aiming to mimic and influence human behavior. Bots are deployed in helpful ways to automate a range of business functions, and deployed in harmful ways when they increase the dissemination of false information.

Adapted from: Emilio Ferrara, et al. "The Rise of Social Bots." Communications Of The ACM 59, No. 7 (July 2016): 96-104.

How do I spot a bot on social media?

Look for the following 3 identifiers:

  • Frequency: How often does the account in question post? How much does it post? How regularly? Is there a pattern? Is the volume of content posted beyond human capability?
  • Content: Can this account properly interact when contacted directly? Is the content posted consistent? Does it make sense semantically?
  • Social network analysis: Does this account have a diverse set of network connections? What does the network look like visualized on a map? Does this account look like it is only following other bots? Does this account interact in conversation from the margins or from the center?

Adapted from: Samuel C. Woolley, "Resource for Understanding Political Bots." A Project on Algorithms, Computational Propaganda, and Digital Politics. Last accessed on January 4, 2023.

Identifying Advertising

Not all advertising on social media is clearly noted.

Public Figures on Social Media

Facebook profile for Oprah Winfrey. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates a Facebook account has been verified. Instagram profile for Taylor Swift. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates an Instagram account has been verified.TikTok profile for the TikTok company. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates the account has been verified.

FacebookInstagram, and TikTok use a blue badge icon to mark verified accounts. These verification badges indicate that it is the authentic account of a notable person.

Screenshot of the Twitter account of Pope Francis. An arrow points to the blue checkmark symbol that indicates a Twitter account has been verified.

Prior to November 2022, a blue badge icon on an X (Twitter) account indicated the account belonged to a notable person. As of November 2022, the icon indicates only that a person has paid for a subscription. You can learn more about X (Twitter) verification here.

Selection of Books on Social Media

Reference & Instruction Department

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