Fake news can quickly become real news

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A story recycles itself on social media and reappears as what seems to be a brand-new story, four years later. Most recently, a story on a double murder in an Othello orchard recently recycled itself on social media four years later. There are a few ways that can happen: Facebook will recirculate stories a year or more later as part of its look back function. This isn’t an uncommon feature and can actually be quite helpful to journalists looking to revisit or update old stories. News junkies in general like to see what happened a few years ago.

A potential problem happens when old news is seen as new news and readers share and re-share old content. Confusion can abound on everyone’s part. People are in a hurry nowadays, juggling many balls and wearing many hats in their professional and personal lives. It’s easy to rush, only read the headline, and miss the date on the story that isn’t apparent until the article is opened.

Why is this a problem? Word of mouth misinformation can sway an election, distress former news-makers and their families, and possibly destroy someone’s reputation. A misinformed public could also assume a major crime happened yet again. Confusion can abound and it’s difficult, if not impossible, for reputable news organizations to sort through all the click bate, chase all the internet rumors and keep up with the erroneously shared stories that appear new.

In the case of the recently recirculated Othello double homicide story, we could have easily thought the story was new. Instead, our reporting staff carefully checked official sources, examined the story online, and fortunately learned early in our fact checking process the story was old. No one was harmed and inaccurate information did not publish.

This experience proves there is a need for trained journalists and reputable news organizations that strive to report the news fairly and accurately.

— Editorial Board

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