Whether it’s watching a friends’ Snapchat Story or the late-night news, many of us seek to learn novel information on a daily basis. Yet, it is sometimes difficult to determine the legitimacy of each news item because we might assume that a published story is true, or we might believe that we do not have sufficient expertise to validate the news. As a consequence, we are prone to believing fake or misleading news, which is a frustrating reality. But since we live in a world where lies can slip through eyes of the overwhelmed fact checkers as well as our own confirmation bias, we have to take responsibility for the search of the truth by exercising more scrutiny.
It is clear that fake news, in all its forms— yellow journalism, propaganda, hoaxes, satire, conspiracies, and the like— can spread like wildfire as a result of the popularity of news feeds on social media websites as well as instantaneous media sharing. Fake news, misleading reports, and instances of “truth bending” were quite evident throughout the election cycle, especially now with the ongoing clash between the mainstream media and the freshly-inaugurated Trump administration.
The ongoing clashes between the media and Trump, and media outlets of both sides of the political spectrum have escalated the problem of erroneous journalism and information sharing. For instance, there were many publications during the election that appeared to deliberately disparage Donald Trump or his supporters– sometimes backed by facts and reasoning, sometimes not. There have also been many other political scandals, such as Trump’s alleged relations with Russia and the Democratic National Convention email fiasco, where media sycophants and pundits alike defended or attacked the reputation of certain political parties. As an independent voter, I found it frustrating to see the apparent biases– and sometimes misleading reports– on both sides of the political spectrum.
On the other hand, President Trump is also no stranger to criticisms and controversy regarding the validity of his public statements. During the press briefing after President Trump’s inauguration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attacked the media for inaccurate reporting of the size of the inaugural, but has since been confirmed to have been lying by many media outlets including the Washington Post. In a recent interview hosted on NBC’s Meet the Press, President Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway stated that press secretary Sean Spicer offered “alternative facts” regarding the size of the crowd during the inaugural ceremony. Many, including myself, wonder if a trend of “alternative facts” will continue throughout Trump’s presidency, as this would become decreasingly tolerable.
It is important to be aware that fake or misleading news doesn’t always necessarily come from unknown, third party sources: they can come from even the most reliable of sources. Sometimes news providers’ fact checkers and journalist fail to correctly validate articles, often due to falling victim to their own confirmation bias. A blatant instance of failed fact checking and consequential media backlash was the publication of A Rape on Campus by former Rolling Stone (also the article’s publisher) writer Sabrina Erdely, which was the false story of rape at University of Virginia in 2014. The story, when it was assumed to be true, was thought to provide significant revelations about the possibility of a rape culture on college campuses. However, the journalist that had published the story failed to exercise proper, investigative fact-checking techniques and the story was proven to be false. This was one of the most memorable stories because of the impact it had on me after reading it but also because it was completely upsetting to be completely deceived. Since then, I have become warier of falsehoods in seemingly-credible articles.
When reading novel information in an article, everyone must exercise caution before confirming the legitimacy of the article. FactCheck.org, one of the leading organizations in checking claims made by individuals and news sources, provides a fool-proof protocol by which anyone can judge the legitimacy of news reported by an online media outlet. They advise readers to:
- Determine the purpose or intentions of the news provider, which can often be found on the source-in-question’s “About Us” page.
- Read the actual article instead of solely relying on the headline to gain knowledge; pay attention to quotes and the manner in which the author is reporting the news
- See if the author can be identified as a real person— not someone who is withholding his identity– and then check their credentials.
- Evaluate the sources cited if they are provided.
- Check the publish date of the article or sources to learn more information of its context
While these may seem like very simple techniques to weed out fake news articles from truthful ones, these methods will help spot fake news.
My criticism of news providers should not be seen as an attack on the media or any individuals for their efforts to share information with the public. But when our news providers and public representatives fail to maintain a strong sense of integrity in truth telling, then we have much less reason to acknowledge or be supportive of their efforts. And this lack of integrity does not appear to fall on one side of the political spectrum or the other, but both in many cases. In the political realm, fake or misleading news is a dangerous yet advantageous tool by which voters can be influenced. This is a direct consequence of the human tendency to have confirmation bias, which happens when we readily believe anything we are predisposed to believe, but firmly deny anything that does not match our beliefs. Blatant media bias and misleading reports will only continue to encourage the tension that currently between opposing political groups.
Because the lingering threat of fake news exists on social media feeds and even on national news networks, don’t wholeheartedly accept news just because it sounds right or fits— evaluate the source properly, read other articles that report on the same matter, and then make the least-biased decision possible on the accuracy and credibility of the news in question.