Fake News is a Disservice to the Public
The terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” have been thrown around and used by politicians, media outlets and people on social media. However, what constitutes fake news and where it’s found can be hard to find for most people. Usually, fake news is a story that was created to drum up traffic or ad revenue for a publication or help with a political agenda. Those stories are not based on any facts, have no sources and are, as the name states, fake.
Johnson County Community College’s journalism and media communications chair, Mark Raduziner, uses a number of tools to see how accurate a news story is, such as checking the credibility of a website and also staying away from sensationalized headlines. Raduziner says that local newspapers tend to report more truthfully than national papers.
“It’s all about credible media,” Raduziner said. “I still think that ABC, NBC, CBS News, The New York Times, and some of the really big newspapers are still credible media and that’s where people need to turn.”
Fake news was prevalent during much of the election and inauguration season. A study by BuzzSumo, a search tool that tracks content on social media and can rank them based on shares on different platforms, showed that the top fake political news stories of 2016 included one about President Barack Obama banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools to Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump for president. Google reported that the term “fake news” was searched at an all-time high January 8 to January 14, a week before Trump’s inauguration. The websites that have popped up with fake news stories are bountiful. One of the major players of fake news stories is a website called Ending the Fed, which is the same website where the story about Obama’s ban on the Pledge of Allegiance was shared on Facebook over 2 million times. Ending the Fed was registered anonymously in March 2016 and has become one of the highest performing fake news websites.
Fake news has created issues outside of the voting booths and off the internet. During the last election cycle, a conspiracy theory nicknamed “Pizzagate” popped up that claimed John Podesta, a former chairman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, had coded messages in his emails. These messages supposedly referred to a child sex ring in Washington, D.C. that took place inside of the restaurant Comet Ping Pong. People shared fake news articles and videos on social media before it was ultimately debunked.
However, this didn’t stop a North Carolina man, Edgar Maddison Welch, from driving to D.C. to investigate “Pizzagate” for himself. Welch took a semi-automatic rifle into the restaurant in December 2016 and fired a shot before being arrested peacefully. Welch’s arrest made national headlines since it was an example of how fake news articles can cause security issues if the readers believe it to be true. “With any kind of message that’s being sent, if something is repeated often then it can be perceived as factual,” Raduziner said. “It takes on a life of its own. It becomes perceived by a faction of society as being real and that’s the worst problem with fake news.”
A study produced by Ipsos Public Affairs showed that about 75 percent of adults were fooled by fake news headlines concerning the 2016 election. With the prevalence of fake news and its ability to convince people it is real, Facebook announced a number of initiatives to decrease fake news, which includes allowing fact-checking by third-party organizations that have signed on to the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of ethics. This will allow those organizations to fact-check stories that are shared on social media and then attach those fact-checks to the original link. Google has also removed fake news websites from its AdSense program and works to make sure those websites don’t appear as often in the search results.
Legitimate media outlets are doing their best to call attention to the fake news stories and correct the fake reporting before it becomes a problem. However, with fake news being so rampant, most people are even afraid to rely too heavily on trusted newspapers and channels in fear of being swept into a possible loop of media lies. “If you’re a legitimate news website, it creates a conundrum for you,” said Park University professor Steven Youngblood. “You can’t put on your website that there is fake news out there and it’s X, Y and Z. It’s just perpetuating fake news. So the best they can do is be very particular about what they report and how they report it. And I think this way news outlets can give the public a legitimate source to debunk fake news.”
Everyone will eventually run into fake news, especially when on social media platforms like Facebook, where the stories get shared over and over again. To avoid falling victim to a fake news story, Youngblood says to always double check your sources. If other media outlets aren’t reporting on it, then there’s a high chance it’s not legitimate. “One can always check suspicious news articles with other legitimate news sources,” he said. “Like CNN, Fox, The Wall Street Journal, or New York Times for instance. If it’s not being reported by one of those other sources, then chances are it’s probably not real.”