Celebrity news

Fake Celebrity News: How to tell good gossip from bad

Who hasn’t been fooled by fake celebrity news, whether it’s The Rock’s alleged “snowflake” comments or that very weird interview with Drew Barrymore? Here we ask Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip how to tell good gossip from bad

(Photographs: Getty)

In the old days (so 20 years ago), even the most laid-back celebrity viewer could line up at a grocery store and roll their eyes at salacious tabloid headlines. Everything written in tabs was meant to be taken with a hefty helping of salt, so why don’t we apply the same standards to things we read on the internet?

What is the difference between good gossip and fake news?

Repeat after us: Not all gossip is fake news. True gossip is subjective conversation that mixes conjecture, opinion, facts and (occasionally) photos, while entertainment fake news is meant to deliberately mislead and distort lies as fact, whether through fabricated quotes, doctored photos or outright lies. A pap pic of two married celebs kissing in a car? It’s gossip. But posting an interview that never happened – with fabricated quotes – is fake news.

Why is it so easy to be fooled?

OG gossip blogger Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip notes that the common denominator in the spread of all types of fake news — gossip and otherwise — is a lack of consumer judgment. “There can certainly be bad gossip, just like there is bad anything. But for the most part, people who understand gossip and do it well and responsibly can shut down bad gossip — rumors, basically — pretty quickly. The common ground between gossip and fake news is therefore the consumer: what we have seen is that so many people cannot distinguish. Or lack the tools to make the distinction.

So how do you become an informed consumer?

One way to identify fake news is to track its genesis. In the summer of 2018, for example, there was a persistent rumor that David Beckham impregnated a teacher at his daughter Harper’s school. Can you repeat that please?! An explosive scoop like this would be a huge story for any journalist, but instead of appearing in a newspaper or entertainment show, the rumor started with an anonymous post on Reddit, which was later shared on Facebook and Twitter. From there, several less reliable sites (like Australian Woman’s Day and Your Tango) picked up the story despite the lack of sources or evidence (and a firm denial from the Beckhams’ PR team). A teacher at Harper’s school was doxxed and identified as the woman in question, which ultimately led her father to publicly state that his daughter had never even met David Beckham. That one lie spawned months of damaging headlines — and *lots* of speculation that Victoria and David were heading for divorce.

Who is responsible for paying so much attention to these lies? How does a Reddit post lead to months of divorce speculation for one of the world’s most famous couples? Well, it’s complicated too.

Unscrupulous content aggregators and websites scour the internet for celebrity information, then create misleading headlines and stories in order to get clicks. The more successful they are, the further the story progresses, the more ad impressions they generate, and the more profit they make. Many websites and social media feeds pull these headlines from each other, creating a cyclone of lies.

To fool readers, crummy outlets often mimic the domain, layout, and font of a more reputable outlet. From there, readers unwittingly add to the confusion by sharing a bit of gossip on their social feeds. With so many headlines and outlets to browse, people can quickly share a scoop on social media without looking past the headline, inadvertently giving a fake story even more traction.

Thanks to social media, celebrities can debunk stories pretty quickly, but by posting the story, they also often give it more credence (this is called the Streisand effect, a term for how closing a story may inadvertently attract more attention).

Why aren’t more celebrities suing the tabloids?

While lawsuits may deter the tabloids somewhat, it doesn’t completely stop them, as many celebrities are reluctant to get into costly and protracted legal battles. That said, defamation laws in the UK and Australia are much stricter than in the US, making it easier for stars to sue tabloids in those countries. Last year, Rebel Wilson won a $4.5million settlement against Bauer Media in Australia for publishing stories claiming she was lying about her age. In 2011, Katie Holmes won a settlement against a US tabloid that portrayed her as a drug addict and Keira Knightley once sued the Daily mail for using her photo in a story about anorexia (she donated her payout to charity).

Assess source and actual information

To tell good gossip from bad, check the source first and foremost. “You can almost rule out anything from an Australian magazine. There are German outlets that are also notoriously unreliable,” Lui says.

A recent example of a flimsy source is The Rock’s alleged “snowflake” interview. (Even we fell in love with this one.) This January 2019 story, which originated in a British tabloid called The daily star, should have been immediately dismissed, because why would a global superstar like Dwayne Johnson give an “exclusive!” interview at such a modest outlet? He wouldn’t, and he didn’t.

A second example of this outright deception is the 2018 story by Drew Barrymore in Egypt Air’s in-flight magazine – this one seemed fake simply because the quotes were so stilted (“I can’t deny that the women have achieved great success on [the] last century, there are significant advances recorded by people who study the status of women throughout history”) and out of character for Drew – which makes sense, considering she never gave the interview Sometimes it’s just common sense: if it sounds wrong, it probably is.

After reviewing the source, Lui challenges celebrity gossip consumers to take a hard look at the actual information in the article. If an outlet is unsure of a story, the language will be vague, offering no concrete details or photos (much like recent headlines surrounding the supposed connection between Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron, who used a lot of “assumed”, “could” and “maybe” to compensate for a serious lack of information).

The advent of browser extensions like NewsGuard, which advises users on the reliability of news and information sites based on nine journalistic criteria, should also help combat fake news of all kinds. In the meantime, the next time a story pops up on social media with an outrageous headline (“Jennifer Aniston pregnant with Brad Pitt’s Baby At Last!”), but it won’t show up on any legitimate entertainment media site (think outlets like People, Entertainment Tonight, Access Online, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Gossip Cop, Just Jared and, of course, Lainey Gossip), you can bet that’s about as real as luxury accommodations. of the Fyre Festival.

Related:
The Bizarre History of The Rock, “Snowflakes” and Fake News

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