Design: An antidote for fake news
The first round of this Challenge, where we set up the design problems for digital news, was held in October, before the election. (Seems like a long, long time ago.)
Since then fake news has enjoyed a shocking boom. Sites, some emanating from Eastern Europe, have presented a lot of fictional news stories, and through the echo chamber of social media, they were not only read, but accepted as fact. Old news hounds like myself may not have been fooled. Obvious bias, bald lies, missing sources, unanswered questions, and bad writing combined to give them away.
But the layout of fake news sites is pretty convincing. I mean, they use Georgia for text! There is a common quality of most news sites that is easy to imitate. And fakes news is not just using Arial, as we see here.
The answer is special typefaces (yes, of course I’m selling custom fonts!)—plus more intense design, layered information, and clear bylines and bios for all the reporters. At the biggest sites, this is done. But the fake news does not pretend to be a site at the top of the media pyramid. Just something your friend is sharing.
The Beeb did a piece on this over the holidays. And here are two examples of their worst cases. And look, not badly designed. Just generic.
For next week’s presentation of the five responses to the Design Challenge, I am going to make some lists of other things we can do (like clearly marking “opinion”) to separate real news from fake.
Of course design is not the only answer here. A little healthy skepticism and a little awareness of the real world help to spot fake news. But design is an answer. And I expect to see some great examples next week at Poynter.