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News organizations reporting rumors and unverified claims often do so in ways that bias the reader toward thinking the claim is true. The data collected using the Emergent database revealed that many news organizations pair an article about a rumor or unverified claim with a headline that declares it to be true.

A claim makes its way to social media or elsewhere online. One or a few news sites choose to repeat it. Some employ headlines that declare the claim to be true to encourage sharing and clicks, while others use hedging language such as “reportedly.” Once given a stamp of credibility by the press, the claim is now primed for other news sites to follow-on and repeat it, pointing back to the earlier sites. Eventually its point of origin is obscured by a mass of interlinked news articles, few (if any) of which add reporting or context for the reader.

The focus of fake news is often thought of as being created by the mainstream media, but social media is also a predominant aggregator of fake news. For example, somewhere along the line it became common practice to share memes on social media, with a significant percentage of readers presuming the content to be fact, rather than fake or satirical. In fact, a recent study by Eschelon Insights and Hart Research found that adults ages 18 to 49 trust news and political information shared from friends more than news delivered from other sources.

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