CAN WE GET RID OF FAKE NEWS?

As a reporter, I can tell you that the popularity of my job has dived even within my personal network.

Worse, the trust once associated with news reports from mainstream media has eroded and more and more of my friends are telling me that the media is too biased or one-sided, a view that I find has been increasingly echoed on social media platforms. Fake news, however, is not the answer.

First we need to differentiate fake from biased. Second, we need to clarify the role of mainstream media in spreading fake news. And finally, let’s see if social media platforms are taking useful steps to get rid of fake news.

fake news pic

Biased Vs. Fake

Truth be told, media outlets do tend to have a bias, especially when it comes to political reporting. Based on editorial endorsements in Canada’ 2015 election, for instance, the National Post is more conservative than the Toronto Star, which endorsed the Liberal Party.

However, a bias merely reflects a view of how society or the economy, for instance, should work. Writing with that view in mind does alter the way events or data are interpreted: the same budget deficit could be too much for one observer and acceptable for the other.

The key here, however, is that the budget number itself is the same in both analyses. The reason is that this figure is the fact, and in both approaches, that fact remains correct and unbiased, coming from the same source.

Altering the number itself to fit a narrative would become misinformation or fake news.

Mainstream Media

To be sure, misinformation has occurred within mainstream media, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by mistake.

The pressure to deliver scoop after scoop, or to beat the competition, has led some reporters and anchors from mainstream media to provide distorted, if not totally fake, accounts of reality.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was suspended for half a year in 2015 after he “ misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003 “, as NBC News President Deborah Turness told her staff.

Sometimes, the misinformation came from a genuine mistake, which most of the time is corrected by the news outlet. This was the case of ABC reporter Brian Ross, who was suspended for a “serious error”.

In such cases, however, be it a mistake or a deliberate act of misinformation from the reporter, news outlets themselves are not supporting such actions and take corrective and/or punitive measures against the reporter responsible for it.

Editorial guidelines and controls should prevent such situations from occurring and the fact that they continue to happen shows there is definitely room for improvement.

Yet, it doesn’t suggest mainstream media is spreading fake news.

Social Media Platforms Taking Some Steps

icons social media.jpg

You and me, the users of social media, are the ones generating content. Facebook or Twitter are, however, amplifying the voice of such users given the instantaneous and global reach they provide.

Social media platforms have seen a proliferation of news that distort the facts themselves to serve a narrative. Interference into elections is one of the most dangerous uses of fake news: if successful, it’s the future of an entire nation that can be turned around by tricking voters into believing false stories.

According to a study published earlier this year, social media platforms have played a key role in misinformation during the U.S. 2016 presidential election campaign, especially Facebook.

The research found that “1 in 4 Americans visited a fake news website from October 7-November 14, 2016.” It added that “almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news web-sites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets. We also find that Facebook was a key vector of exposure to fake news and that fact-checks of fake news almost never reached its consumers.”

Initially, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube simply considered themselves as just that: platforms lending support to people to express themselves, whatever they had to say, hence respecting the principle of free speech.

But that view has changed and those platforms have become more proactive in tackling fake news.

Facebook has been “working to stop misinformation and false news.”

During the summer, Facebook, Youtube, and Spotify banned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars, with Twitter following soon after.

This change amounted, in my view, to the recognition that social media platforms bear more responsibility in the spread of fake news than they initially accepted, and that will likely force further actions down the road to address this issue.

In October, Facebook came up with a “war room” to address the misuse of its platform, notably fake stories aimed at influencing elections.

Looking ahead

Some critics believe such efforts aim at correcting the bad PR and improve the platform’s image.

But even if that was the end objective, it would have to be successful at reducing fake news in order to improve the company’s image. So it is still a step forward in my view.

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Facebook removed hundreds of accounts suspected of spreading fake stories, showing the extent to which such platforms can amplify the reach of these stories.

Do you think such efforts can be successful in tackling fake news?

Should lawmakers and politicians handle the issue by adopting new laws?

Read it on Facebook and Twitter!

img_0035  Can We Get Rid Of Fake News?

img_0036 Can We Get Rid Of Fake News?

 

 

9 thoughts on “CAN WE GET RID OF FAKE NEWS?

  1. Hello Yali Social. A well intended and proportioned blog. Good use of headings that kept focus and cadence of the blog moving along nicely. Good reference through the hotlink connection to a reasonable article. I thought you referenced your blog better than Mosseri had done to his article.

    Good pictures that created good connection and interest between the story and its’ objective. Besides, I used the Facebook picture, as well. I did want to know who the authour was of this article / blog to reference for myself and use in the future. Gives you a chance to showcase yourself. I liked your fonts. Times Roman fonts can get tiring and the use of these fonts was crisp and smooth.

    You seemed to be immersed in this article as the tenor was deliberate and sincere. Well, that’s just me speaking. But you seemed committed to the content which made it relevant. I thought you used the introduction, body and conclusion well.

    Patrick

    • Hello Yali/Patrick. The blog reads like an informed editorial from a unbiased professional source. It’s thoughtful, informative, and well structured. I agree with the points made by Patrick, he articulated these more effectively than I could have. I’m learning – well done, both of you!

      I don’t know what kind of regulation could be put in place, or by whom. In my opinion lawmakers and politicians aren’t informed enough, or courageous enough, to make the important decisions for fear of crossing tribal lines. Access to information has destabilized the establishment for better or worse – it’s concerning. At the moment, I feel it comes down to personal responsibility. I’m comfortable with the sources I trust.

      Francis

      • Guido Hatsis, I agree about the personal responsibility. It’s important to develop a good sense of judgement.
        I think we are only at the early stages of addressing the fake news issues now that the world has seen the potentially huge impact it can have on the direction a country can take.

    • Thanks for your comment meag0027.
      Yuo made a good point on the use of pictures and showcasing ourselves. I should always keep that in mind!

  2. Excellent post. Your content and style is engaging. Your post makes me want to sit down and have a discussion with you about this very topic.

    While I do think the efforts of Facebook etc. will have some impact on slowing the spread of fake news, I am extremely cautious about turning towards government to create laws about the spread of fake news – in fact I think that’s heading into some dangerous territory – a he said she said situation with some very stiff penalties.

    Maybe I was one of the lucky ones. I got to learn to navigate the truths and lies of the internet slowly since it evolved as I grew up. Many of us were taught to think critically about what we read in the paper – after all there were only so many news stories to look at in a day. Now people are exposed to everything all at once, in a time where consumption of information is all about hitting those pleasure centers in the brain (gossip) instead of a way to inform ourselves.

    • Thank you for your feedback.
      Maybe the whole class could one day have a coffee and go over the many topics that have been addressed!

      Critical thinking, I agree, is more important than ever to navigate the Net.

  3. Dear yalisocial,

    I really enjoyed reading this blog entry. More precisely, I appreciated your differentiation between fake and biased news.

    As a consumer of news through mainstream sources, I find that it is unfortunate that “trusted authorities” are shaping people’s thoughts on these news sources with aplomb. I will happily concede that most media sources are politically biased and I usually take this into consideration when I read a paper, watch, or listen to a news program. The choice is mine to take the news with a grain of salt as I see appropriate. As a person who prides herself in making her own choices and likes her freedom of thought, it angers me that some people in power see fit to cloud the judgement of voters regarding certain news outlets by calling them out as “fake news” because they are not in agreement with the way said outlets are portraying them in their publications, etc. I don’t believe that it is a government’s duty to sway people’s views of proven news sources.

    My wish would be for as many people as possible to read your blog entry dispelling some of the dangerous rhetoric that is being propagated around media. And I fear that social media may be making some detrimental content more accessible to their users than trusted content. I am referring to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that came to light earlier this year. While scandals such as that one can help solidify user policies and prompt sharpened scrutiny from some authorities, there is the looming fear that malicious users will find some other way to make their content accessible again.

    I will remove myself from atop my soapbox now and leave you with this: I hope for more education around the digestion and use of user-generated content. I think the world needs more dedicated writers such as yourself to help with these efforts. And I very much look forward to reading more of your work.

    Christie

  4. Hi Yali Social,

    Thanks for your post. Despite how sick I am of hearing about “fake news”, particularly when it’s being spouted from the mouth of our orange faced-president, I still enjoyed reading your take on it all.

    I think for a long time, social media platforms have been well aware that they are giving birth to false and inevitably harmful content, but chose to dismiss responsibility and used this “free speech” excuse as a crutch. I kind of touch on free speech in my blog as well. By all means, it’s a fundamental right to human life. But at some point, social media platforms need to step in and take ownership for what’s happening online – whether it be recycling of misinformation, or violent cyber bullying. I’m glad they’re finally stepping up as opposed to idly standing by.

    As a trained journalist I understand one of the toughest parts of the job is being objective. It’s incredibly challenging to avoid bias sometimes, especially when you’re writing about something that is so blatantly outrageous or offensive. But I still trust in most main media outlets. I honestly believe that if you are an independent thinker with some degree of education, you will have the ability to absorb everything around you and make your own conclusions about it. End of story.

    Thanks again for your thorough analysis!

    Holly

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