By Staff Writer Jonathan Ko
With the advent of the Information Era, fake news has become a growing problem. Fake news is exactly what it sounds like: either falsified or honestly misreported information readers believe to be true. Though hoax articles have circulated since the 1800s, fake news has flourished on the Internet, a medium through which it can spread at a rapid rate. Active misinformation is a significant issue, one that is at best annoying and at worst injurious. Though it is easy to blame Facebook or Google for its problems, the responsibility to fight fake news ultimately falls to each media consumer.
More and more people have begun to use social media sites for news. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that 62 percent of American adults receive news from social media. As a result, the adage “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet” is increasingly gaining relevance.
False articles have permeated nearly every aspect of modern reporting, from sports to celebrities to politics. Early in November, an unfounded story that Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson would be traded to the Boston Celtics became a trending topic, throwing many loyal Warriors fans into a panic. Other examples are easy to find; a fake article claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump two weeks before the election spread like wildfire, racking up nearly 1 million shares, reactions, and comments.
In the wake of shocking presidential election results, many have pointed to fake news as an influential factor. Though the number of votes that fake news influenced is not calculable, a BuzzFeed News analysis found that fake election stories collected millions of views, becoming just as popular as legitimate election articles. If even a fraction of viewers changed their minds due to fake news articles, they may have provided the tiny margins of victory for Trump in several swing states.
Media giants Facebook and Google have come under fire for allegedly failing to adequately inform users of what media is fake or legitimate. In fact, market research firm YouGov found that 72 percent of surveyed adults in the United Kingdom think that Facebook has a responsibility to filter out fake news stories.
While fake news spreads most effectively on social media sites, it is not Facebook or Google’s job to regulate what is published online. They are both technology firms and are not equipped to act as arbiters of truth. In fact, the act of filtering content would violate the basic purpose of these sites, which is to serve as media through which information is spread and people communicate. Social media at its most basic level is meant to facilitate human connection and expression — it is about people’s opinions and points of view, neither of which are necessarily true. The federal government has not made lying illegal, so why should social media sites do so?
This is not to say that we can’t solve the problem of fake news. The solution to this complicated problem is simple. Consumers need to consciously check if the information they internalize is trustworthy. Too often, people forget that consuming media is not a passive activity, so they do not bother to check the facts of their information or the legitimacy of their news sources.
The Internet has fostered a societal attitude toward information as something that is cheap and widespread, while in reality, information and its integrity are sacred. On the topic of active misinformation, President Barack Obama said to USA Today, “If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect … And we can lose so much of what we’ve gained in terms of democratic freedoms.”
We need to regain an appreciation for news and the integral role that nonpartisan, accurate reporting plays in society. We need to realize that fake news is an attack on our personal beliefs, a virus hidden in flashy headlines and clickbait articles meant to sow mass confusion that leaves readers doubting all information — especially real news.
Fake news is a menace that dupes millions every day. It affected this election and will most assuredly affect future events. The responsibility to fight fake news does not fall in the hands of Facebook, however — it is the responsibility of media consumers to read with skepticism and think before accepting.
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