What is Fake News?
Fake news is a phenomenon that has captivated the nation. Almost everyone has at least heard the terms, but what is it really? The terms’ meaning varies from one person to another. For instance, if you find yourself on the right side of the political spectrum you may think fake news is spread through mainstream media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN. If you find yourself on the left side of the political spectrum, you may think fake news is spread every time Donald Trump opens his mouth.
Basically, fake news is a news report/article that does not report on real facts or events and does not have credible sources.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon as David A. Bell explain in article about the problems with fake news. He points out that fake news has been around just as long as real news, but social media has dramatically spread the circulation of it. However, it is important to note that the circulation of fake news is not always because the fake news is believed. Many people share fake news on social media because they want to debunk the article, which is discussed further in Danah Boyd’s article.
Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall on, it is undeniable that Donald Trump has made the concept of fake news more prevalent in society.
All of the sources that Trump called out in the picture above are reputable news sources that have been credible for many years. However, Trump has cast doubt on these mainstream media sources and does not want his followers to believe in them. He instead promotes news sources that reflects the story that he wants his supporters to see as seen in the tweet below. It is interesting to note that the percentages listed add up to 101%, while the 100% is the societal norm for completing a whole.
What’s the Problem with Fake News?
Even though fake news may be humorous to look at at times, it can cause real problems in society.
In the article by David A. Bell mentioned above, Bell states how the “conservative machine”, by which he means Republican politicians and commentators, are delegitimatizing real news, which is the mainstream news media. He explains, “What the conservative media machine does, in tandem with its delegitimization of real news, is much more dangerous. Its leaders take any story that, however glancingly or speculatively, throws doubt upon the patriotism, honesty, or competence of public figures they dislike, and immediately cast it as the greatest outrage in American history.”
The conservative machine, as Bell likes to call it, is casting doubt on all mainstream media and instead trusting sources that it deems biased in its favor. Delegitimatizing mainstream media means that all the news we grew up on was a lie.
Did the BP oil spill really happen? Was George W. Bush ever really president? Was there ever really a winter storm in the Northeast? Is there really a Pope? Is everything you’ve ever thought to be the truth suddenly become a lie?
The idea of labeling all mainstream media as fake news sounds like a bunch of conspiracy theorists came together and came up with their best theory yet. Nothing is real and everything you’ve ever been told is a lie.
With the right calling all mainstream news media “fake” and the left calling all right-leaning media “fake”, there is no news. There are no events or polls to be reported on that Americans can mutually agree upon. There is nothing left untainted by doubt.
Don’t get me wrong, every article has some bias in it, even mainstream media does. However, it is not beneficial to label every mainstream media source as fake news simply because your political party’s leader says to do so.
But What Can be Done?
Well for starters, don’t believe everything that Donald Trump tweets.
In addition, we as a society need to improve our standards for what we label as real news. We can’t rely on just any site that pops up first on Google. We have to be responsible for the news that we read and circulate. Don’t share stories on Facebook that have no merit. Don’t trust sites that look like they were set up in the 1990’s and haven’t been updated since.
Danah Boyd says it best, “Addressing so-called fake news is going to require a lot more than labeling. It’s going to require a cultural change about how we make sense of information, whom we trust, and how we understand our own role in grappling with information. Quick and easy solutions may make the controversy go away, but they won’t address the underlying problems.”
There needs to be a raise in the standards of what we deem is “true”. We need to check out the sources that are listed in the article and see if they are credible. We need to pay attention to the domain and url of the website we are on. We need to explore the website’s history and read the About Us tab. We need to check the comments on the article. We need to do more than simply reading the article and accepting it as true.
How to Spot an Article/Site that Isn’t Credible
There are many scholars and normal people alike who have weighed in on how to spot real fake news (even though that phrase seems like an oxymoron).
One such person is Melissa Zimdars who made a document that details how to spot fake news sources. For instance, she advises that you should stay away from websites that end in .com.co because they are often fake versions of real websites. Take for example abcnews.com and abcnews.com.co. One is a news site that is updated daily, while the other is a site that features a story written almost a year ago on the front page.
For more examples go to Zimdars’ document and look through her extensive list of websites and test their credibility.
Be a smart media consumer and don’t believe everything you read. There are a lot of ‘news’ sources out there that are not credible, so be sure to follow the trail of facts that the article outlines and see how many other (credible) sites cite the same sources or see if the facts listed are not facts at all.