Houston, we have a problem. That problem is fake news. Or, more accurately, the internet’s startling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between fake news and the genuine article, so to speak. People used to be able to tell the difference between a satirical headline from The Onion or The Borowitz Report and a legitimate news story on something that actually happened. They could tell when something sounded a little off. And they’d read an article before sharing it with abandon, and appending their own views on the topic at hand. But those days are over now.
So the internet is littered with fake news sites that churn out unsubstantiated or completely fabricated stories. They traffic in views and likes and shares primarily on Facebook. (This is the social network that Rob Harvilla of The Ringer reports is now “rife with misleading bullshit and outright lies and paralyzing vitriol.” The same social network that makes it easy to willfully lodge your head inside an echo chamber personalized to your worldview and customized to your confirmation bias.) But not everybody is happy to see their Facebook feed overtaken by absurd stories, willful misunderstandings, unfortunate misreadings, and blatant conspiracy theories masquerading as news.
In fact, many of us agree that fake news is a problem. Most of us have, at least on occasion, clicked on a story and quickly realized that it wasn’t what we expected. The ideal solution would be for us all to return to news literacy 101, to polish up our reading comprehension, and to get our bullshit meters checked. (We should also take stock of our biases, since it seems you can believe anything if it jibes with what you already think is true.) But if you need a short-term (and inherently imperfect) solution, there are a few apps and browser extensions that can help you stop falling for fake news stories — or at least offer a timely reminder that you can’t believe everything you read online.