It Just Got Harder To Trust Online News - InformationWeek

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It Just Got Harder To Trust Online News

A pair of Russian students creates a Web site that makes it easier to post spooked news stories.

It takes a healthy dose of skepticism to suss out information from disinformation online. FakedNews.com makes that task even more challenging. The site lets users create their own bogus news stories, designed to look like they're part of a bona fide news site. Users can E-mail links to their customizable fake stories--"X-Files Fan Killed For Knowing Too Much" is one example. One of the page formats that FakedNews uses closely resembles CNN.com--logo and all--and the URLs for the story links also seem to originate from CNN.com.

In its terms of use, FakedNews calls for responsible free speech and reserves the right to terminate service for users who abuse the service. Users aren't allowed to post stories that could be construed as libelous; the agreement even goes so far as to say, "You will not hurt feelings of the person whom you write the story about." And when story recipients close the FakedNews window, or try to click on a link within the Web page, a pop-up window appears to say the content's a spoof.

News spoofs are nothing new, and they certainly didn't begin with the Web (think about the radio ruckus caused by Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds"). But FakedNews gives people an organized way to make their own news, and there's always the risk that it won't have an amusing outcome.

The site has already terminated service for several people who weren't using it appropriately, says Artem V. Orel, a co-founder and Moscow State University student. One person tried to spread a story through stock forums saying that an earthquake had hit Yahoo!'s headquarters. Says Orel, "If our gentle pop-up didn't appear, people would definitely believe the [fake] CNN story and he could easily influence the stock market."

"It's hard to find ways to authenticate things on the Internet," says Harvey Ardman, program director for the annual Pop!Tech conference. The Camden, Maine, event draws speakers such as Ray Kurzweil and Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe to discuss how technology affects society. Fake stories that seem to come from authentic news stories could mislead folks and cause trouble, he says. Ardman looks to more traditional media to verify some stories. "If I don't see it on ABC Nightly News, I tend to wonder about it."

Those curious enough to visit the site are forewarned: Some of the content are of a raunchy nature.

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