Illustration by Colin Reef
I’m sure you have heard about it or even stumbled upon it while scrolling through Facebook or other social media platforms. The “it”, I am referring to is this concept of deliberately publishing propaganda and disinformation with the intent to completely mislead an audience. Perhaps you find fake news to be simple satire or harmless entertainment, but the truth is, it has a potentially negative effect on many facets of society and democracy.
In recent history, the common unethical journalistic practices in media known as yellow journalism arrived near the turn of the 19th century, along with sensationalist tabloid journalism like the National Enquirer.
It has been well documented that people such as William Randolph Hearst profited from such unethical dissemination of news and partially contributed to citizen support for the Spanish-American War.
In other words, lies in news had the potential to inflict physical harm.
With that in mind, there can be serious consequences to falsifying news especially in the digital age where opinions seem to dominate facts. There has been especially large appeal on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
“The bottom line is: We take misinformation seriously,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook creator said. “Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”
By Institution:IFLA [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
One particular fake news story that was seen on Facebook was one reported by the Denver Guardian stating that, “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder Suicide.”
This is completely false. The Denver Guardian operates solely on providing clickbait stories to gain popularity. Upon further research, one can even visit their website domain and see that the links don’t function and their street address is non existent.
Another case comes from The Valley Report, an entertainment website known for publishing fake news stories. One story they published recalls a woman defecating on her boss’s desk after winning the lottery. Completely false. The mugshot used online was unrelated and actually came from a case that happened in 2014. This blurs outline of reality and fantasy.
Some good ways for people to sift through all the false news is to consider the source and understand its purpose. Begin to read beyond the headline to understand the whole story and check the authors, make sure they are real and credible. And exam supporting sources to ensure they reinforce the claims, check the date of the publication, thoroughly review your own biases, and get confirmation from experts.
Lastly, ask yourself if it’s a joke. These fake news “correspondents” are banking on your inability to use common sense to understand their fake story.
Really ask yourself… “does this make sense or is this complete bullshit?”