The internet, as it so often does, has taken a non-story and run with it. After recent photos from Mars were released, several sensationalist news sites published stories revolving around an “ancient tree stump” that NASA had apparently discovered. This ancient tree stump, which scientists identified as an irregular rock pattern, has taken a life of its own through the internet, with people reporting it as “proof” of life on Mars, or that the planet once hosted an environment not dissimilar to ours.
Although the story hasn’t been picked up by any reputable news sources, it hasn’t stopped it from being propagated and shared across social media and shady websites. Essentially fake news, made up from pure conjecture, speculation and complete disregard for the proper ethics of journalistic integrity, the ancient tree stump story is just another example of the worsening quality of certain media outlets, and people’s mounting inability to discern an obviously fake story.
Whilst stories like this can be easily identified as fake due to their lack of credible sources, and wild conjecture, it should be pointed out that it is fairly easy to fact-check any article online by tracing back its’ sources and their origins when possible. Larger news conglomerates may have their own anonymous sources on the ground, which would make their article hard to vet, but rest assured that any self-respecting outlet verify their own sources and go through several levels of fact-checking before publishing a story.
The same can’t be said for everyone though. News sites that quote other, shady news sites or who don’t reveal their sources are more often than not fake, or based largely off their own agenda or opinion. Extravagant headlines and exaggerated facts are also the hallmark of poorly rated outlets more interested in boosting their page visitors than covering anything of substance or informative value.
People’s inability to identify fake news has become a very real social issue, with companies like Facebook and Google attempting to root out skewed and untruthful information from their websites in an attempt to improve people’s ability to access real news. The ancient tree stump story, as well as the several dozen spinoffs it has inspired across the world wide web, would be just one of many to be quashed under new algorithms and search engine tweaks proposed by the internet giants. Remember, if you have any doubts to the merits of an article, check the publisher’s history and the sources it uses in its’ story! You have the power to stop fake news.