This is a public service announcement about Ebola: If you see a story from a source called the National Report, ignore it. Do not–repeat, do not–pass it along on social media.
The National Report operates under the guise of satire, but is really just one of the most prominent of fake-news sites that gin up sensational headlines to scare people into clicking and sharing. One National Report story with the headline “17 Texas Kindergarteners Contract Ebola After Exposure To Liberian Foreign Exchange Student” has over 1.5 million shares and over 200,000 likes on Facebook according to the site’s own statistics.
Fake Ebola news is its own kind of “epidemic,” says Craig Silverman, founder of Emergent.Info, a site that verifies or debunks rumors that fly around the web. He told The Verge, “Facebook is where things absolutely catch fire, in particular when you’re talking about hoaxes and fake news articles.”
Unlike The Onion, the National Report is not a well-established satire site, nor does it disclose itself as such except for one sentence on its legal page. Another story claimed a small town in Texas had to be quarantined after a family of five was stricken with the deadly virus and garnered almost 340,000 shares on Facebook, according to Emergent.
The Verge reports that this underhanded practice by the National Report has seen some viral success–a traffic spike of 2 million unique visitors to the site on Tuesday, most of which came via Facebook. As Ebola moves from the top of the real news, traffic to the National Report should dry up–but that doesn’t mean sites like it won’t capitalize on the next sensational current event.
Deceptive satire isn’t the only source of bad information about Ebola on social media. In August, Fast Company investigated the numerous ways false Ebola stories go viral.