Social Media and the ‘fake news’ crisis

10553556_10152589754678701_7534017501245320226_nLast week a report commissioned by our federal heritage minister called for some pretty steep changes to the Canadian media industry. The study came on the heels of a number of major elections around the world – most notably the Trump/Clinton campaign in the United States – which were fraught with “fake” news. Social media has been blamed for this, with Facebook taking a large majority of the criticism.

The report calls for a new tax on foreign companies selling digital subscriptions in Canada, a more local focus from the Canadian Press, and harsher restrictions for the CBC — specifically denying it the ability to monopolize digital advertising as a way of helping newspapers.

Former journalist Edward Greenspon authored portions of the report and stated, “make no mistake, the situation for journalism, and therefore democracy, is getting worse.” Ironic really, when social media was intended to aide democracy and give a voice to average citizens.

The report’s authors are now suggesting a $400 million dollar influx to the industry is required to save it.

So what happened?

Well, as a former journalist I take a “too-little-too-late” standpoint. I worked in three major newsrooms in Halifax, Toronto and Yellowknife and watched as staff numbers were slashed in half, then quartered until the majority of desks were empty and those of us who remained bitterly tried to fill the holes.

Newspaper reporters in particular, are passionate people. We believe our job is a hallmark of democracy, a way of recording history and a huge responsibility we owe to our fellow citizens. Since 2008, we have been ignored, scoffed at, lost our jobs and had our wages reduced. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to cover an event or tried to get an interview and been treated like a lesser because I work for print and not digital media.

We were abandoned as websites like Mashable and Buzzfeed became the go-to sources for news and as “news” became “26 facts that will ruin your day” or “are these puppies cute or nah“.

Now we’re in “crisis”.

In his editorial for the Guardian titled “Here’s the truth: Fake news is not social media’s fault“, Roy Greenslade said the nature of falsehood is nothing new, but technology allows it to permeate and spread faster than ever.

“It’s not the fault of social media, but it is a consequence of it, because lies can be passed on so swiftly and indiscriminately.”

Personally, I think it is unfair to blame social media platforms. In light of recent criticism Mark Zuckerberg has stated Facebook is working to try and filter or reduce the amount of false news, but doesn’t some of the blame rest on us, its consumers?

Why are we choosing to read articles on disreputable sites, and if we do come across one in our news feed, why are we not cross referencing it against another source? We have abandoned our journalists and put faith in strangers sitting in their basements. And according to Greenslade, these people are preying on our fears and our prejudices, which is the key to their success.

“It is also about human fallibility. Lies that play to our prejudices are more easily believed and we pass them on thoughtlessly, exacerbating the problem.”

You cannot expect quality or truth unless you demand it.

So who is really to blame here?

Facebook: Stop blaming Facebook for fake news.

Twitter: We’re all to blame in the ‘fake news’ crisis. #trump #facebook #fakenews #democracy

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