News Media: how and why to Spot “Fake” News
There is hardly a thing that has affected the reputation of media as the increased prevalence of fake news. While many people consider the concept of ‘fake news’ as a threat to the democracy of the United States and other democracies around the world, it should be noted that the phenomenon is not new and has been around for quite some time. Much of the popularity that the term has gained over the past few months can be attributed to Donald Trump (Allcott and Gentzkow 212).
Currently, tensions between individuals, organizations, and even nations have been exacerbated by the rise of ‘fake news.’ It remains a mystery as to the origin of the idea of fake news, as well as the actual implications of social relations around the world. One of the fake news meme posted in a website called America’s Last Line of Defense claimed that Hillary Clinton had funded a website that was against Donald Trump using taxpayer’s money.
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Compared to a news article titled “Hillary Clinton unleashed foul-mouthed tirade in Trump debate prep session” (McCarthy), that appeared on the Guardian website, it can be clearly seen that the fake news article fails the test of authenticity when viewed through lens of detecting fake news. The first flaw detected in the fake news is that it does not have the real name of the person who created the meme (Snopes).
The absence of details of the author definitely implies that no one is ready to take responsibility for the story since the creators know that it would not go well with their reputations. The Guardian article was written by Tom McCarthy in New York, and even shows their twitter handle and email address links, implying that if anyone wants some clarification regarding the authenticity of the news they can contact the author. Without a doubt, no one would shy away from revealing their identity if they are sharing an authentic story.
The second indication is reference to a legitimate source. The fake news meme references itself to a website called “notmypot.us.” However, it should be noted that the domain name of the site had just been obtained very few days before the meme came out, posing serious questions regarding the authenticity of the story. Typically, it would take some weeks, and even months, before such a revelation can be proven. A website that has just been created cannot be traced to the sponsor, unless they have done it in the public eye. Again, it was established that the person who had obtained the website domain was the very person who held the domain for the site that published the article.
It thus dawned upon any rational skeptic that such a thing cannot be mere happenstance. While the Guardian has several references within the text, most of them are from its own previous publications and can actually help the reader in establishing the background of the story and why they are being referenced. In most cases, when fake news articles include links to other sources, they are most likely to be fake links that do not even work, or they may be links to irrelevant articles, even if they may be authentic sites. Another peculiarity that can be noted with the fake meme is the date that it claims the site was founded.
February of 2017 did not have 29 days, and thus the story cannot be authentic. In fact, upon noticing this untruth, most of the readers now realize that this is just a satirical meme that should not be taken seriously. Indeed, most fake news require the reader to do some math and logical analysis of the information presented before coming into conclusion on whether to believe it or not (Kiely and Robertson).
All dates presented in the Guardian article about the timeline of Trump and Clinton’s conflict are authentic and can be proven. The primary reason why fake news has become harder to differentiate from authentic news is that most of them are coated with some elements of truth. For example, the America’s Last Line of Defense’s meme about Clinton’s purported founding of an anti-Trump website builds on the fact that the two were battling it out for the 2016 presidential election, in which heated conflicts emerged.
Most people will be tempted to believe that the story is true since all they know is that Clinton and Trump are at longer heads. The increased acceptance of fake news may compromise the effectiveness of democracy since many stories will be tailored to fit the conversation that some malicious politicians want to spread, thus paving the way for skewed presentation of reality. The idea of fake news has substantially affected people level of accurate informed-ness since it floods their brains with falsehoods that have been shaped in a way to be believable.
Since they are founded on the realms of some true stories, those fake news that end up being incorporated into the developing stories can greatly influence the ability of people’s rational thinking. To ensure that fake news is avoided, people should learn to rely on reputable sources for their daily consumption of news (Wall Street Journal).
Moreover, when some news comes across, they should always evaluate it through the basic checklist of fake news to establish whether it should be trusted or not. Lastly, it should be noted that the ‘fake news’ concept is not a new phenomenon. For example, Snopes.com is a site that has been cracking down fake news for almost two decades. It implies that such stories have always been around, only that they were recently popularized during the 2016 presidential elections.
Worse still, the events that occurred after the elections have exacerbated the situation. Seemingly, similar cycles may arise in the future and may push fake news to a whole new level. Honestly, I believe that the quiz on The Washington Post does not really capture all the concepts needed for one to be considered to have fallen for the trap of the political spin. As such, I feel that it needs some refinement to be more objective and rational.
- Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. “Social media and fake news in the 2016 election.”Journal of Economic Perspectives31.2 (2017): 211-36.
- Kiely, Eugene, and Lori Robertson. “How to Spot Fake News – Factcheck.Org”.Factcheck.Org, 2016, https://www.factcheck.org/2016/11/how-to-spot-fake-news/. Accessed 24 Apr 2018.
- McCarthy, Tom. “Hillary Clinton Unleashed Foul-Mouthed Tirade in Trump Debate Prep Session”.The Guardian, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/24/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-amy-chozick-chasing-hillary-book. Accessed 24 Apr 2018.
- “FACT CHECK: Did Hillary Clinton Found An Anti-Trump Website With Taxpayer Dollars?”.Snopes.Com, 2018, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hillary-clinton-anti-trump-website/. Accessed 24 Apr 2018.
- The Washington Post. “Analysis | Why We Fall For Political Spin”.Washington Post, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/politics/cognitive-biases/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.b99c67cf740c. Accessed 24 Apr 2018.
- Wall Street Journal. “Study: Most Students Cannot Distinguish Fake and Real News”.Youtube, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYc-hd1QSwA. Accessed 24 Apr 2018.