On I Can’t Believe it’s Not News, Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan explains how radio stations have become a key conduit for sharing online fake news

Kaplan: Since 2016, there have been “more than a hundred cases of radio stations sharing” fake stories on air

From the July 16 edition of I Can't Believe it's Not News:

BETH VAUGHN (CO-HOST): So, hey, sounds like you’ve been doing some really interesting research into radio stations, and wanted to delve into some of that with you.


VAUGHN: It looks like fake news actually goes beyond some of the usual suspects of talk radio, so can you tell us about what you found in your research with how radio stations are spreading fake news?

KAPLAN: Right, so, yeah, so, this is kind of -- I mention that how fake news can reach outside of the internet. And the medium of radio, I found, has become particularly vulnerable to the spread of fake news. Basically, I found that, at least since the 2016 election, fake stories, fake images, or fake quotes -- kind of a way to just general fake stories -- have been widespread on the whole on radio. Repeatedly you will see a fake story that started online reach a radio station, reach a radio host, who says it on air, suggests it’s real. And while I found that many of the stations that push it -- or push these -- have been more talk news, talk radio, sometimes a conservative radio host, it’s not just them. I have seen it on sports stations, on music stations. I’ve seen a little on bit on Christian stations. And this is also, besides on air, I’ve also seen this on their social media, so like radio stations’ Facebook and Twitter.

So it’s not just exclusive to talk stations. It’s a widespread problem in this industry, if you call it that, of radio. Seems to be -- it’s not getting much better, from what I’ve seen. I originally published a study in March and since then I’ve found multiple examples, a ton more examples since then, and the original piece I had out of my original study found like at least more like a hundred cases, more than a hundred cases, of radio stations sharing fake [stories] since like December 2016.


KELLY MCCLOSKEY (CO-HOST): Can I ask you -- what I saw over and over from some of the stories that you share -- Alex sent us over a bunch of articles that he had written that I will include in the blog, but what I saw a lot was if it’s gross or if it’s related to death, like if it’s a gross funny or if it’s like if someone died, everyone wants to share those stories almost immediately without any backup to see if they’re true, just because they make traction. Do you find that to be true?

KAPLAN: I think I generally agree. I think some of the shocking [stories] tend to -- I think those are the types of stories that I’ve seen.

I do think the incentives to have something that seems funny or interesting for their viewers is overriding the … some type of journalistic responsibility to do some type of fact-checking before you share it on the [air waves], because like maybe -- I mean, music stations are not exactly like what you would think of. It’s not like The New York Times, but there’s still, I think, some responsibility to be accurate when you’re talking about sharing any type of [information].”

I do think that there’s incentives, again, for these types of stations to just -- I don’t know as much with the music and sports [stations] for political reasons -- it might be -- well depending on the story, if it’s like a sillier one I do think it’s like an incentive to like, “Let’s have a weird, funny, interesting story[.]” … And I really do think that as time goes on, and as this problem gets worse, and it will, there will probably be some type of conflict between that and just any type of journalistic standards to not misinform your viewers and to keep the credibility of radio as a whole.

MCCLOSKEY: But I just wanted to piggyback on this because there was an article you sent over about a fake Maxine Waters quote about the Supreme Court, and it was -- obviously it was not, it was not from her, it was completely false. But even when they talked about it on the radio, they said, “Oh, well, we’re not sure if this is true, but it still sounds like something they would say.” So just putting that false narrative, “Oh, this not might be true, but this sounds just like them.”

KAPLAN: Right, and that actually ties into something we’re waiting to -- I pointed out in my original study too, just see a lot of cases of stations, of hosts, saying -- it’s kind of a wishy-washy thing, saying like, “OK, I’m going to share this with you. I don’t know if it’s true,” or, “It sounds interesting. It sounds like it could potentially be real, but like, you decide, you figure it out.” I would say that that is an abdication of responsibility of radio stations. Even though you may not claim yourself to be a full journalist. You’re still trying -- you’re still sharing information with people; there’s still some belief that you’re going to be sharing factual information. … And if you don’t know that something is true, you probably shouldn’t share it.


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A fake Maxine Waters quote about the Supreme Court is spreading on social media and radio

A fake Super Bowl story reached a sports blog, a former NBA player, and multiple radio stations

A fake CNN site started a viral hoax. Radio stations blamed CNN.

Fake news about Anthony Bourdain's death reached radio stations and foreign TV