LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The newsroom was pretty shocked the other night to watch web numbers climb into the hundreds then thousands for apparently no reason. It was a quiet news night. Why the surge?
It turns out an old story from January 2016 warning of winter weather had been shared on Facebook. And as those numbers continued to climb, it became clear the sharing wasn’t going to stop. Before it was said and done, more than 60,000 people viewed the story – most thinking it was a current piece and that wintry weather was on its way for the weekend.
Right now on https://t.co/decNVMmbqR ==> A #winter storm article from last year (January 2016) is the number one story on our site. #uhoh pic.twitter.com/9o0hBs6V72— Mitchell McCoy (@MitchellMcCoy) January 10, 2017
A few of us in the newsroom had previously tossed around the idea of doing an online “fact check” when fake news or rumor started to spread. “Seems like a good time to start the fact-check posts,” web content manager Suzanne Burnette suggested after a few hours of dealing with the winter weather that wasn’t. Good call.
To prevent the spread of fake news, Facebook has teamed up with news organizations like ABC News, The Associated Press and PolitiFact. They tackle topics of national importance but that leaves a gaping hole and the local level. And as most journalists have likely experienced and one point or another, it doesn’t take long for rumors to catch fire.
Here’s another example…
This time last year, I decided to have a little fun with the $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot. I bought a ticket, posted an image of it online, and said I’d share the jackpot with everyone who shared the photo. At the time, more than 100,000 people shared it. And, of course, it didn’t win. But we had some fun with it, right?
A few weeks ago, that old post found new life. While I was never able to track down the original post, I’ve been told someone posted the ticket was a winner and users simply needed to share it to claim a piece of the pie. Since that time, it’s been shared an additional 70,000 times – and that figure continues to climb.
Using those two situations as a launching pad, we introduced our own fact check feature for our websites on Tuesday. Our posts are simple: we describe the situation, exactly how false information started to spread and what we know to be the facts.
In a world where fake news and rumor run rampant on social platforms, we hope this little feature reinforces arkansasmatters.com as a trusted, respected news source.