Can you spot a fake news story? How clickbait got nasty

Aggregators: Sites that take information from more reliable sources and rewrite/ spin them with inflammatory headlines. This is a way of baiting people, since their aim is to incite outrage by presenting an interpretation of the facts without any contextual detail. Often the news originates with trolls and is recycled by ‘viral’ news websites.

AdWords fraud: Fake news sites bid on keywords or search queries to place links to their articles in Google’s paid search listings. For example, a search for “final election numbers” recently presented a top result from a blog announcing (prematurely and erroneously) that Trump had won both the popular and electoral college votes.

Satirical news: Websites like The Onion and Private Eye purposefully publish false information to comment on actual events. These stories are sometimes taken at face value and shared or rewritten as news, thereby perpetuating misinformation. It’s a shame that satire is lumped in with aggregators, since (at least in the Onion’s case), it’s often very insightful and funny.

Content recommendation companies: two of the most visible clickbait peddlers are Outbrain and Taboola. At the bottom of a news article, you might have noticed a list of sponsored stories with thumbnail images and headlines like “after losing 70lbs, Susan Boyle is actually gorgeous!” — these are clickbait peddlers.

Bots and click farms: Google and Facebook have both committed to tackling false news because their news feeds and search results often promote the spread of misinformation. They may simply pick up on activity, such as a surge in likes or shares, that originate from trolls, bots or click farms. Any group wishing to push an agenda (as demonstrated in the recent election) can manipulate algorithms to gain more visibility on these platforms.

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