CINCINNATI — Zombie waiters in five-star restaurants. Elvis seen alive decades after his death. And there's Bat Boy, the child with pointed ears and sharp jagged-teeth.
Those are just a few of the stories published by the longtime supermarket tabloid Weekly World News.
"Some people say we're the father of fake news," Weekly World News CEO and Editor-In-Chief Greg D'Alessandro told the WCPO 9 I-Team. "We just want to go back to our time of fake news where everything was fun, playful."
Now, D'Alessandro said, fake news is a term sometimes used to describe a news story that may have a factual error or simply be reporting details some people don't want to be true.
"They hijacked fake news," D'Alessandro said. "They're saying that the reality that you see isn't true."
More than 70% of news consumers believe 'fake news' is a big problem, according to a 2021 Deloitte Digital Media Trends Study.
That's why the I-Team is examining fake news as part of WCPO's reporting during Media Literacy Week.
"We all have different ideas of what fake news is," University of Cincinnati Journalism Professor Jeff Blevins said.
The UC professor co-authored Social Media, Social Justice and the Political Economy of Online Networks, a book that examines how information, including fake news, has been manipulated and shared on the internet.
Blevins said he defines fake news as "something that tries to pass itself off as being from a credible or legitimate news source when it is, in fact, not."
Much of what is commonly described as fake news is posted by people who don't trust traditional news sources and consider themselves extremely conservative or extremely liberal, according to a University of Colorado-Boulder study published in 2020.
Blevins and other researchers have found that fake news spreads faster on social media than traditional news stories that are accurate.
So, how can you identify fake news or information that is, at a minimum, misleading?
Blevins cautioned against rushing to judgment and sharing information based on a quote or short clip of video that can easily be taken out of context.
"The truth takes time to develop," Blevins said. "Context takes time."
He said it's important to use multiple sources that may present the same story differently. That allows you to compare their coverage and find common ground that most likely represents the indisputable facts.
"For me the golden standard of accuracy is AP (Associated Press)," Blevins said.
Longtime New York Sen. Patrick Moynahan, a Democrat, chose to read news coverage that didn't reflect his views, according to D'Alessandro, who said he worked on Moynahan's 1988 campaign.
"He wanted to get the full spectrum of viewpoints and see what everyone else was thinking," D'Alessandro said. "I think that's the way it should be."
Here's the I-Team's short list of suggestions that can help you identify and limit the spread of misinformation:
- Don't share the information right away unless you know it's true.
- Consider the source. Is it an official news source or journalist from a known news organization?
- Compare the information with other news reports on the same issue.
- If possible, try to determine the original sources for the information and what, if anything, they have to gain by sharing it.
- Go directly to public information sites that can answer your questions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for coronavirus-related items.
- Pay special attention to social media posts that use short clips of video as the basis for their story. These may be shared without the context needed to get the full picture of what happened or the snippet could be taken out of context.
You can also check different fact-checking sites. The Duke Reporter's Lab provides a list of nearly 350 fact-checking sites around the world, including many at news organizations in the U.S.