Category Archives: Fake News

Bitter almonds were banned by the US government because they can treat cancer?

TL; DR Summary

  • This appeared in my Facebook news feed yesterday.
  • Many of the commenters to it, believed this to be true.
  • A few noted that perhaps this ban was because bitter almonds contain hydrogen cyanide (this is true) but pointed to other “nuts” like Apricot pits, that also contain similar levels of cyanide – and those are not banned. Therefore, say the conspiracy theorists, this poster must be true!

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20th Century Fox created many fake news web sites to promote a movie

The sites were designed by an experienced fake news publisher using the traditional, emotionally laden headlines, with false stories designed to be shared on social media. The purpose was to promote a movie –  by design, many people began sharing these fake news stories on social media where they were viewed as real.

Many of the stories were partisan political posts with false allegations. One fake post had been shared 65,000 times on Facebook alone.

A promotion tactic for “A Cure for Wellness,” which set up false news sites that put out articles that were widely shared, fell flat, as did the film’s projected ticket sales.

Source: 20th Century Fox Gives Real Apology for a Fake News Campaign – The New York Times

Even though the web sites have now been shut down, the original posts shared on social media can still be found by searching those web services.

Everyone produces fake news (we used to call them “public relations press releases”) and social media is the megaphone amplifier for any absurdity to be passed on as the truth.

People – and social media sharing – makes fake news successful

The creation of fake news is not the core problem – lying has been around for as long as people have spoken (“Thou shalt not bear false witness,” the Bible says). The problem on social media is that people who don’t know better spread the lies – and the technology enables them to do so faster than ever before. Like the difference between a fire on someone’s stove and a forest fire burning thousands of acres, virality is the primary issue, not the original lie.

Source: Stopping Fake News On Facebook Is Actually Simple. Here Is How I Have Been Doing It For Years.

I try to follow my own rule: On Facebook, I share items I create, or links to items I have created – rather than links to sources whose authenticity is hard to gauge.

I unfollow or unfriend people who frequently share fake news. By breaking the link, fake news fails to achieve market share, fails to go viral, and will not make money by selling eyeballs to advertisers, which is the goal of the fake news publishers.

Propagandists play the same game too – exaggerated or false headlines designed to grab our emotions, which we quickly Like and Share without a moment’s thought. Social media propaganda and fake news use the same methods – don’t play the game!

Non profit spins news story into propaganda success?

Source: Traffic deaths surge in 2016

My local paper (not linked here) spun this story with anecdotes and quotes that cell phones were the cause of most car crashes (they are not). The story is appearing in online news reports nationwide.

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration, all forms of distracted driving accounted for 10% of all fatal car crashes and 16% of all crashes reported to the police. Cell phone usage is one of several driving distractions.

Cell phone usage was a factor in 3% to 39% of all distracted driving fatal crashes (the percentage varies by age, with the age 20-29 group being the high outlier). That corresponds to 0.3% to 5% of all fatal crashes, and 0.5% to 6% of all car crashes.

Numerous stories claim or imply that cell phones are the cause of most crashes, which is not true. But judging by the comments in my local newspaper, this assertion has been turned into a fact thanks to propaganda and poor journalism.

I made this chart a very long time ago – while it only goes to 2000, the basic issue it illustrates remains true:


From a propaganda perspective, this story took off across the country today – originating with the National Safety Council, a safety advocacy organization. The NSC press release lists cell phones as one of many issues in auto safety – the NSC, however, wants to ban all cellular phone operation in automobiles, for any purpose.

The NSC press release also says “The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities” which is not true. The U.S. is not the worst for accident rates or total accidents even though the U.S. has more population, more drivers, driving more miles than other countries.

The NSC’s propaganda efforts have been a spectacular success, widely distributed in the media, and then amplified by poor reporting and news forum online comments that proclaim this assertion as a fact. Undoubtedly the story has been shared widely on social media. I have not been on social media for a few days as our Internet access has been unreliable and intermittent.