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5 Easy Ways to Spot a B.S. News Story on the Internet

The Internet, while awesome, is also a mind-boggling marvel of bullshit production and dissemination. A misleading or outright fake news story can get forwarded on Facebook a million times before Snopes.com can even write up their rebuttal (no, oral sex does not prevent breast cancer). Since the rise of social media, we get more and more of our news from each other, and far, far too many of us aren't asking ourselves the important question:

"Is the amazing news I'm about to share even fucking true?"

Because most of the time, we don't need somebody else to debunk these stories for us -- not if we know what to look for. For instance, it should always raise red flags if ...

#5. It's World-Changing News from Some Obscure Website

Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images

Any Time You See a Headline Like ...

"Vaccinated Children Five Times More Prone to Disease Than Unvaccinated Children" -NaturalNews.com

Or

"Studies Show That Online Gaming Can Add Years to Your Life" -i-Newswire

You Should Read It As ...

"Vaccinated Children Five Times More Prone to Disease Than Unvaccinated Children AND ALSO WI-FI IS CAUSING WORMS TO GROW IN YOUR BRAIN" -Hobo talking to his pet rat on the subway

I'm not saying all news has to come from The New York Times or the BBC -- I think I only learned Obama won re-election because Mike Tyson mentioned it on Twitter. But for the love of God, if you're going to forward me a link on Facebook about some earth-shattering piece of health news, I'd better not hover my mouse over the link and see it's from fucking AlienTruthRevealed.blogspot.com. I swear that 95 percent of the misinformation on the Internet could be stopped in its tracks if people would just take a few seconds to look at the source of the amazing headline they just read before hitting the Facebook "share" button.

In the case of that vaccination story above, it came from NaturalNews.com. And, to be fair, it kind of sounds like a legit site. (Isn't there a prestigious scientific journal called Nature? It's probably related to those guys!) It's only when you read down to the bottom that you see that their anti-vaccine study was based on an online poll conducted at a website called VaccineInjury.info. That is, an anti-vaccine blog got their readers to click buttons on a page agreeing that vaccines are terrible (obviously every study ever done disagrees). But how many parents just skimmed and forwarded it along with an accompanying post like "Scary stuff!!!"

Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
"Wait, this is just pain juice. Where's the one for premature death?"

I understand it's not always obvious by just glancing at the URL -- purveyors of bullshit news have figured out how to sneak their product onto domains that also host legit news. For instance, a while back I mentioned a shocking story that ran on Reuters about how fluoride harms brain function, but a closer examination showed that it was just a press release by anti-fluoride wackjobs hosted on a separate part of Reuters' website (with no oversight or fact checking -- you could write one right now and they'd post it).

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
"Finally, my Legolas erotic love story will see the light of day."

Oh, and do you still recognize Forbes as the highbrow magazine for investor types? Because guess what: Their website now hosts hundreds of unedited blogs from random, often unpaid writers off the street. Seriously, you can write for them if you want. So now any time you see a Forbes.com story and the URL has "sites/(some dude's name here)" in the middle, you're not reading a news story from professional Forbes reporters/editors, you're reading a blog post from some random person. That's why you can see a "Forbes" article claiming that a majority of scientists doubt global warming -- in reality, it's a press release written by a shill for the Heartland Institute, an oil-industry-funded group that ran billboards comparing environmentalists to serial killers.

Remember, there's a lot of money to be made from bullshit -- that traffic pays the same as any, and they're getting very good at tricking us into doing their promotional work for them. And that goes double if ...

#4. It's From the Fucking Daily Mail (or Another U.K. Tabloid)

Via Dailymail.co.uk

Any Time You See a Headline Like ...

"Semen Is 'Good for Women's Health and Helps Fight Depression'" -DailyMail.co.uk

Or

"Woman, 23, Found 'Having Sex With a Pit Bull Terrier'" -TheSun.co.uk

Via Thesun.co.uk
"And the dog was also a terrorist!"

You Should Read It As ...

"Bigfoot Caught Having Sex With Roswell Aliens" -BullshitChonicle.info

I guarantee that everyone reading this has clicked on, and believed, a bullshit Daily Mail story within the last year. Their website has become the most popular news website in the world, largely because of their talent for getting Americans to forward their bullshit to each other.

Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images
"Ha! That guy got a whole child stuck in his asshole. Send that to Tom and tell him he owes me 10 bucks."

The Daily Mail and The Sun are tabloids -- I'm not using the word "bullshit" lightly here. It's a little bit easier to see with The Sun (typical headline: "Aaron, 9, 'Bullied to Death for Being White' -- Family Blames Asian Yobs for Suicide"), but a huge number of Americans don't seem to realize that The Daily Mail is just as bad. They're so much better at hiding it -- go to their front page and they'll have four real stories and then one they just pulled out of their asses. And I mean literally they'll just make up a fictional story, usually about the danger of immigrants/foreigners/Muslims, or salacious sex-related crimes, or the horrors of feminism.

For instance, they ran an outrageous "crazy ex-girlfriend story" with the headline "Dentist Anna Mackowiak Pulls Out Her Ex-Boyfriend's Teeth" (they made sure this happened in Poland, to get the "crazy foreigner" aspect in there). The story went viral and was picked up by Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Daily News, as well as every fucking news aggregator website on Earth. When somebody finally looked into it and it turned out that none of the people involved actually existed, The Daily Mail said they weren't quite sure where it came from. That is, one of their reporters just ... made it up.

Andrea Chu/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"Oh, crap, did I forget to put the 'fiction' disclaimer in there? Silly me."

And why not? It's not like it will stop anyone from forwarding the next one. The "swallowing semen fights depression in women" story I mentioned above got repeated so often that England's National Health Service had to issue a statement reminding people that if they're suffering from depression they shouldn't try to just blow their way out of it.

But their real specialty, the fuel that keeps their ad revenue fires burning, is outrage. When a British researcher suggested that autism could be exacerbated by two parents of similar obsessive personality types, The Daily Mail wrote it as "Is the Changing Role of Women in Our Society Behind the Rise in Autism in the Past 30 Years?" When a female scientist wrote a book about how in the future, there might be ways to have children without a sex partner, The Daily Mail's headline was "The Woman Who Wants to Abolish Sex." Other Daily Mail exclusives include "How the BBC Fell for a Marxist Plot to Destroy Civilization from Within" and "Why No Child Is Safe from the Sinister Cult of Emo."

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
"Sir, the skirt says 'hipster' but the boots say 'goth.' I'm taking the shot just to be on the safe side!"

Don't laugh -- remember, they generate some of the most-forwarded stories on the Internet. Hey, remember that crazy story from a while back with the headline "Saudis Fear There Will Be 'No More Virgins' and People Will Turn Gay if Female Drive Ban Is Lifted"? That was The Daily Mail.

And just by linking to all of these I've fallen into another one of their traps: writing intentionally wrong/dangerous articles to get the traffic from outraged people debunking them. Like "Want to Beat Depression? Do What I Did -- Just Get a Grip!" Or, after Japan's tsunami, they gave us "Why My Wife's POW Grandad Wouldn't Mark a Minute's Silence for the Japanese" (sample quote: "I often wonder what our fathers and grandfathers would have made of modern Britain's ghastly cult of sentimentality and vicarious grief.")

Holy shit, it really makes you want to take to your blog and tell the world why it's bullshit! The Daily Mail is counting on it, in fact.

Polka Dot/Polka Dot/Getty Images
"Can you believe this horseshit? Wait until FuckMonster78 hears about this."

#3. It's Predicting Some Future Disaster by a Strangely Specific Date

Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Any Time You See a Headline Like ...

"All Seafood Will Run Out in 2050, Say Scientists"

You Should Read It As ...

"We're Not Sure How Much of a Problem This Is, But We Can't Get Anyone to Care Unless We Say It's the Apocalypse."

Yes, all of the fish will be gone by 2050, according to that story that got spammed across every goddamn website and social media network on the Internet a few years ago ...

Via Google
The only search term I used was "seafood 2050." Seriously, try it out.

... and who could resist forwarding, sharing, or reposting such a story? No fish by 2050! Our fat asses will have eaten the oceans dry! That story went almost as viral as the one pointing out how Europe will be a Muslim dictatorship by 2050. And the one about how there won't be enough water to grow crops by 2050. And the news that America's economy will collapse by 2050. Really, go Google the phrase "by 2050" and you'll find out that it's going to be a terrible year.

Granted, the "all fish will be gone by 2050" report was immediately debunked by scientists, and by scientists I mean "the same people who worked on the report" (they released a revised one a few years later, minus the doomsday prediction). And while there are still plenty of chilling viral videos warning of the Muslim menace overtaking the world thanks to their birthrates being higher ...

... it, like all alarmist predictions your cousin shares on Facebook, is based on the assumption that every trend line on a graph continues in the same direction forever (spoiler alert: they don't). For instance, I grew up hearing every day that overpopulation was so out of control that we would run out of resources by 20 years ago. Today we know that birthrates are now falling worldwide, and so of course here come the predictions that humans will go extinct if current trends continue.

And that's true, in the same way that you will eventually die if you continue your current trend of sitting and reading this article instead of eating or sleeping. But news outlets that rely on referral traffic know that a story expressing mild concern or suggesting sensible action on an issue is nothing but boring mouse cursor repellent. But set a deadline on the death of the reader or the reader's children? That shit is getting shared. So, if it looks like an asteroid is going to come somewhat near Earth a century from now, according to a random Russian website, you throw that shit up on your site with the headline "We Have 93 Years Left Till the Next End of the World: Killer Asteroid to Hit Earth in 2106." You've got a viral hit on your hands!

Gary Cornhouse/Photodisc/Getty Images
"A gigantic dog turd is attacking our lens flare! RUN!"

And you'll notice that one also runs afoul of the "huge news from an obscure source" rule. Trust me, if a world-killing rock is heading our way, the grown-ups will cover that shit.

But even if the news is from a legit source, watch out if ...

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