Journalism, once held in high stature by the public, has been facing sharp public criticism recently. The emergence of journalistic criticism and general mistrust stems from the recent emergence of the term “fake news,” most commonly associated with the president in his political tirades against journalists. The term is often associated with inaccuracy or misreporting, but what really is fake news?
Hong Vu, assistant professor at the William Allen White School of Journalism, differentiates between what he refers to as “real” fake news and “fake” fake news.
“Real” fake news is “created by chatbots with an intention to deceive people," Vu said. "It looks like news, but all the information in there is either fake or made up."
On the other hand, what most people consider fake news is really “the kind of news that you don’t like and just call it fake news,” Vu said.
This “fake” fake news has been brought to the public eye by political attacks on news media.
Columnist Hannah Henry says Trump's Fake News Awards are an attempt to stifle free speech and discredit journalism.
As students studying in higher education, we have a responsibility to keep ourselves informed, but with so much access to fake news, that becomes more of a problem. While students continue to garner information about the world around them from social media, the facts show that this may not be the best way of processing news.
As recently as last October, Mark Zuckerberg openly expressed that Facebook was not going to police political speech on the platform. This was made out to seem as an upholding of free speech, but in actuality it allows for more clickbait websites to find their way into users’ Facebook feeds.
“The fake news creators make money from your clicks,” Vu said. “They want you to click on the story as much as possible so they can generate some revenue. In order to do that, they have to create a headline or pictures that will draw people’s attention.”
In circumstances such as Facebook’s, headlines that draw people’s attention tend to be political articles that can be targeted at certain individuals who then share those stories with their friends, which creates a misinformed public. Meanwhile, fake news continues to bring in a profit.
“Fake news is usually customized to the political ideology and any kind of need you have for information. [Websites] want to customize the data for whatever information they can get out of you,” Vu said.
Vu said confirmation bias comes into play on the part of the readers.
“You want to read the information you agree with,” Vu said. “So that’s where fake news creators come in.”
Vu explained that, through social media platforms, fake news sites can learn more about a person and therefore develop and create more fake news for their preferences, thus further spreading fake news.
While I cannot express the importance of free speech enough, one can’t help but wonder the point of free speech if what is spoken is false. Perhaps people may try and seek other news sites that are credible, but it is impossible to know how many sites aren’t.
After Strong Hall was evacuated because of a fire alarm, speculation about the cause — ranging from an active shooter to explosives — emerged. Columnist Joey Anguiano argues that students should not spread rumors about campus issues before knowing the facts.
Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College began compiling a list of sources which are “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y and Satirical.” Zimdars’ list can be extraordinarily helpful for the many news consumers who aren’t experienced enough to determine the credibility (or lack thereof) of certain websites, but this list compiles only a few of the numerous sources providing false information.
But how can a person congest news without taking in fake news? That’s where the newspaper comes in. As a source, there is nothing more honest than a newspaper with substantial history behind it.
“[Newspapers] have professional writers who work for them. They have a long tradition in terms of credibility as well," Vu said. "The easiest thing is to take the sources that you know well and have a long tradition in the news media."
Given how overwhelming it can be find sort through so much digital information, people often choose to read from random, unchecked sources they find online. Vu said a better way to filter through the information is by finding those several sources which you identify with and know are credible.
And what better way to get behind the curtain of digital information — which may or may not be fake — than by involving yourself in a medium that has a history with credibility and is doing everything it can to report the facts?
Brett Knepper is a sophomore from Newton studying English creative writing.