Fake News: The Black, White, and Red Herring

February 17, 2017

   

Fake news is all around us: clickbait articles on Facebook, ‘alternative facts,’ opinions voiced without research, and ‘red herrings’ - attempts to deceive us from the real issues at hand.

  

There is so much information out there that is fictional, it’s sometimes hard to know what to believe. Unfortunately, it’s up to us to try to figure out what is not fake.

  

NPR.org has an entire section dedicated to stories about fake news. The section includes stories about how before fake news, there were fake photographs - those that had been edited so much that they don’t resemble the original, tips on how to spot fake news, and the fake news crisis that’s plaguing Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook.  

  

Social media can sometimes fan the flames of fake stories and lend credibility to such information even when it is blatantly false.

  

Fake news can be used to spread rumors or conspiracy theories by anyone with a computer, sometimes with hopes of profiting from it, sometimes to simply spread lies. And it can be used by governments to disseminate propaganda and try to influence people’s attitudes or beliefs.

  

Fake news can also be used to harm or injure; and sometimes fake articles can lead to dangerous situations. A recent story now known as “PizzaGate” was a work of fiction, spread through online media, which claimed that Hillary Clinton’s senior campaign managers were involved in a child sex trafficking ring whose headquarters was at a pizzeria in D.C.  Some believers of the story concluded that “pizza” was a code word for these heinous activities and that Clinton was involved in some kind of a criminal enterprise. Of course, none of this story was true.

 

But once the “news” was out, a man believing the story to be authentic, decided to save the children he believed were in danger. The man, Edgar Maddison Welch, drove from North Carolina to the D.C. restaurant with his girlfriend, an AR-15, and a .38 caliber revolver. He stormed into the pizza parlor searching for evidence of a sex trafficking ring, had a confrontation with employees, and fired a few rounds. Welch was charged with transporting a weapon with criminal intent and faces ten years in prison.

 

As seen in this case, fake news can cause some people to take matters into their own hands, and it can easily happen when people truly believe the lies they are told.

 

Surprisingly, less than half of all Americans believe they can determine what news is a lie and what is factual.  According to Pew Research Center, only 39% of American adults believe they can tell the difference. Those feeling “somewhat” confident in their news debunking skills is only slightly higher, at 45%.  

 

Many people are guilty of sending or sharing fake news. About 23% of people admit to sharing false news stories. The keyword here is: admit.  

 

There has also been research that teenagers are less likely to be able to spot the difference than their parents or grandparents. You would think that because kids are usually better at navigating technology and the internet than their elders, they would be better at debunking. That’s not the case.  

 

Stanford researchers noticed that high school students tend to look at a picture and see it as a solid fact; the thought that the picture may be “Photoshopped,” researchers say, may never enter the students’ minds.

 

High school students may also see a Facebook link or story and automatically view it as the truth.

 

Researchers showed students a tweet from the verified Fox News Twitter account and a very similar tweet from a fake Fox account. Only a quarter of students noticed that the little blue check mark had any significance. Thirty percent argued that the fake account was more trustworthy.  

 

As the future of our country, kids should read an article (whether it’s true or not) and do research to determine if the article is actually factual. Students in general may not be too worried about the accuracy of news, but fake information has the potential to be destructive, or even disastrous.

 

If only someone could invent something that would filter out fake news. Get on it, smart people.  




 

Artwork: CC0 Public Domain / Free for commercial use / No attribution required

 

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