The week in fake news: Ted Nugent is not dead

April ends with a slowdown in scandalous news stories. No one was dragged off a plane this week, and no more aircraft carriers went "missing." But, as always, plenty of malarky found its way to desktops in the form of fake news, incomplete articles and illegitimate sources.

At Grapple, we are getting closer to presenting a prototype software that can help fact check all online content automatically, running in the background of any web browser and delivering notifications as you read. In the meantime, here's some nonsense that sprouted up this week, cultivated the old fashioned way.

Ted Nugent wasn't killed in a hunting accident

For some reason, conservative oriented blogs started publishing stories Sunday claiming that Ted Nugent, rock and roll star and conservative political booster, died in a hunting accident. No such accident occurred. 

The Last Line of Defense's original story should have been pretty easy to recognize as a hoax, for the minority of readers who found their it back to the illegitimate source. The four-paragraph story contained no quotations, no external sources and didn't even reference a police station. Grapple's software will automatically direct readers of any of the subsequent posts back to the that original story, and could highlight the lack of external citations and references.

The initial story was shared over 11,000 times and was aggregated and iterated by a number of other blogs. By Saturday it spread sufficiently to catch the attention of fact checkers at Snopes.

Fluoride paranoia jumps the line

Pseudo-science espousing the dangers of fluoride, a mineral added to some municipal water supplies to improve dental health, has long been an angst among the organics crowd, sparking protests in communities like Portland, Oregon. Info Wars' Alex Jones has also adopted the fearsome additive as a source of government paranoia among his community.

His website first published an article in 2012 describing the mineral as "nothing less than a chemical weapon," and claiming that the World Health Organization has taken steps to suppress discussion of adverse health effects of water fluoridation. That outdated article somehow found its way into the mainstream this week, spawning a series of "breaking news" reports across lesser blogs and social media channels. 

Not only is that article outdated, it cites a non-existant Harvard doctor who authored an article published on an illegitimate website claiming that Nazi's used fluoride during WWII to pacify its concentration camp populations. 

It takes a few clicks and an extra search to find that background content, but Grapple will pull all of this up automatically and deliver easy to read notifications to your browser window.

Fake news is a huge problem, but there are solutions in the works

So perhaps my third link this week isn't exactly fake news, but really just a story lacking some breaking and developing information. News executives and tech investors met this week at a "Subscriber Summit." Among challenges discussed there, the Columbia Journalism Review reports, was fake news and its impact on the legitimate business of gathering and disseminating information.

The Washington Post's Baron sounded pessimistic about the chances of being able to stop this problem: “We can’t even agree on what happened yesterday.” 

But we are working on an actionable solution to the fake news problem, and it doesn't rely on humans to agree on whether or not something is fake. Our software will pull in missing context for any article read online, delivering additional background information without requiring more work or time scrutinizing everything that comes across your news feed.

While many industry insiders, including Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg, grapple over solutions that filter content and label it for their users, we are simply building a software that provides more information. Thus, users can make more informed decisions about what they read online, regardless of where it came from. 

If only Mr. Baron knew about Grapple...