A fake news story claiming the U.S. House passed a bill to block Sharia has gotten twisted around online. Though no such bill has passed, the story has its roots in actual events in Montana.
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The fake news story, flagged by Facebook users as part of ABC News' partnership with Facebook, claims the House passed a bill to prohibit Sharia in the United States. Sharia is a set of rules that govern devout Muslim behavior, usually, in modern times, in their private lives. The story's headline screams, "BREAKING: Vote passes 56-44 in the House, bill to PROHIBIT Sharia law in United States."
The fake news story was posted on The Washington Feed, which is not tied to The Washington Post or The Washington Times, despite a similar font and graphics. It says the bill passed in the House "largely along party lines with a 56-44 vote." There are 435 representatives in the House, not 100. (The Senate has 100 members.)
The Washington Feed did not respond to a request for comment via its website or its Facebook page, which has more than 50,000 likes.
The article stems from a story on The Conservative Daily Post — which was updated to clarify that the vote was in Montana's House — not the U.S. House of Representatives. The Montana bill affects only state courts, not federal courts throughout the United States.
The Billings Gazette, a real newspaper in Montana, reported that a bill "to prohibit state courts from applying foreign law" passed the GOP-controlled Montana House 56-44. The bill does not mention Sharia, though debate on the bill focused on that concern, the Gazette reported. The article included quotes from state representatives in Montana. The Gazette story is true, confirmed by multiple sources, including The Associated Press.
The fake news article from The Conservative Daily Post focused on Montana includes several inflammatory statements about liberals, Democrats and Muslims.
A similar fake news story, published earlier on a site called True Trumpers, has this headline: "JUST IN: Sharia law finally banned in all 50 states. Do you support this?" The article has no text, just the text of the headline. That site has published more than 300 stories — many of them fake or sensational. No contact information was available for this website. A ban on Sharia would have no legal force in any U.S. state, since Sharia is understood in America to be a set of private religious tenets (dietary rules, for instance); in some countries ruled by Muslim religious groups, some parts of Sharia do have legal force.
Experts in fake news at the News Literacy Project say one of the hallmarks of fake news is that it provokes an emotional response.
"On social media, it's so easy to share information with just a click of a button," said Elis Estrada from the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit that teaches students how to identify reliable sources online, in a livestream with ABC News at Thurgood Marshall Academy. "If something strikes an interest or makes you angry or maybe you have a strong emotional reaction to it, you tend to just share it without actually checking it out."
A study by experts at Columbia University and a French research organization, Le Centre Pour la Communication Scientifique Directe, found that people shared 3 in 5 links on social media without opening the link.
ABC News has launched "The Real News About Fake News," powered by Facebook data, in which users report questionable stories and misinformation circulating on the platform. The stories will undergo rigorous reporting to determine if the claims made are false, exaggerated or out of context. Stories that editorial partners have also debunked will then appear flagged in your News Feed.