“Fake News” Is Hurting America’s Ability to Hear the Truth. Here’s How.
By: Daniel Keller
Did you know that Tide Pods have been discontinued?
It’s been a tumultuous few months for the laundry detergent company, with kids and teens across the country undertaking the “Tide Pod Challenge,” where they bite into a tide pod on camera for the internet to see.
Tide has found the new trend so dangerous that they’ve decided to no longer sell one of their most popular products. This will mean that many of us who use Tide Pods each week for our laundry will have to go without, and use typical laundry detergent.
Well, not really. It turns out that this story has been deemed fake news, articles and stories that are not factual that spread throughout social media, convincing people that they are true. It has even come to the point in which it has affected political discourse.
News media throughout the years has been incredibly important in influencing the public’s perception of politicians and political issues as a whole. Its place in our society has been highly coveted since the founding of our nation, with the first amendment in the Bill of Rights specifically stating that Congress shall establish no law “…abridging the freedom of speech or of the press,”
However, we are currently in an interesting time in our political history where the concept of reporting, and its impact on the public that listens to it, is increasingly brought into question and, by some people, is currently under attack.
Now, with fake news becoming more prevelant, it’s important to understand what fake news is, what it is not, and what it is being used for in the political scene. Fake news in the traditional context, is news and news stories that is entirely fabricated. The reporting itself covers an event or situation that never occurred and is meant to draw attention to the article either for revenue gain or to mislead people.
With the advent of social media and the viral nature of stories, fake news has become more effective at spreading and misleading, with people instinctively sharing articles without really paying attention to their validity. For example, Snopes reported on a fake article that claimed Democratic state senators from New Jersey were arrested due to involvement in a child sex ring. These senators didn’t even exist — fake names were used to mislead viewers who aren’t aware of the local legislative assembly in New Jersey.
These articles typically come from unknown and unreliable sources. This article was found on PatriotPost.us or LadiesOfLiberty.net according to Snopes. Snopes also mentioned that these sources parade as satire to deflect criticism for creating and spreading fake stories.
While this particular example is partisan-fueled, not all fake news stories need to be about a political issue. Some articles that Snopes has fact-checked include sensational information about a number of issues, including local news, sports, and other genres of news.
Regardless of the genre of the article, fake news stories are meant to mislead people into believing their stories are genuine, and are then shared and spread through social media. The motive behind this kind of deception can include profiting from ad-revenue or spreading false information to inflame partisan opinions.
However, all fake news articles nevertheless lead to one thing, deception of the those who believe it, and the spread of false information.
While this is one portion of the idea of fake news, there is an interesting way that the term is being used in partisan politics. Despite true fake news stories muddying up the political debate, politicians and pundits both are taking true news stories — reported on by reputable news sources — and claiming that they are “fake news.”
This is particularly common in the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump. Trump claims that he has even coined the term fake news in an interview with Lou Dobbs in October. However, though this claim has been proven false, the attachment that the Trump administration has to the concept of fake news is inescapable. The president just claimed the Wall Street Journal is peddling fake news by claiming he said “I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” in a sit-down interview with him.
Here, the president is using the claim of fake news to de-legitimize media outlets when they are reporting on events or stories that leave the president in a potentially unfavorable light. By utilizing this fake news tactic and de-legitimizing media sources, politicians such as the president then have the capability of casting doubt on the news sources reporting their actions and could result in the public not trusting third party media sources. Instead, they may look right at politicians for the truth
The problem is, however, that politicians often have very partisan agendas. If people are only receiving news about politics from those in power, they could be misled by those politicians in order for their agenda to become more popular and supported, regardless of the truth behind those issues. If reporting becomes the responsibility of politicians, we may begin to discover the true meaning of fake news. Already there are examples of mainstream news stories being found inaccurate after reporting.
For example, it was found that CNN’s story that Donald J. Trump Jr. knew that WikiLeaks had hacked documents before they were released was incorrect. This then caused Trump Jr. to respond by claiming CNN was peddling fake news stories.
However, while the implications of inaccurate articles are widespread and severe, these stories are typically accompanied with retractions. While the publishing of inaccurate stories can be the result of sloppy journalism, it would be misleading to claim that these stories are intentionally misleading like typical fake news stories. Therefore, with the spread of fake news stories, and the claims that legitimate news sources are using fake news to spread an agenda, there is an important question lingering in the air about how anyone can easily discern truly malicious news stories that have no bearing in reality, and stories that are being portrayed as fake news in order to satisfy a politician’s agenda.
News organizations are likely going to have to change policies and increase protections against inaccuracies if they wish to continue to be viewed as legitimate and prevent attacks against their credibility. Outlets that are regularly accused of fake news will need to rigorously fact check stories before reporting on them, and being transparent and open about inaccuracies if they arise.
The way that viewers interact with news will likely also change following the introduction to fake news. With concern that what they are reading or hearing about is incorrect, news audiences will have to become more diligent about the stories they digest. Through checking sources, verifying the reputation of news outlets, searching for retractions, and fact-checking articles, news consumption will likely become an exhausting endeavor, leading some to tune out current events entirely.
However, those that do stay informed are likely going to become more skeptical of what they read and will better be able to think critically about news as a result. Whether one or the other will occur more frequently is an important question to consider as important elections and the implications that come with them creep up on us this year, and the presence of fake news will undoubtedly shape the political sphere in these midterms, as well as all elections moving forward.