How fake news can negatively impact the consumption of news and its repercussions

By Rachel Jackson

Students at the University of Texas at Austin are engaging with news now more than ever, according to a survey conducted by a UT journalism class on National News Engagement Day.

While it is rewarding for the press to see an increasing trend in news engagement, the possibility of consumers stumbling on fake news is much more likely, said Paula Poindexter, professor at the Moody College of Communication. Deciphering the credibility of the news can be a challenge with so many news outlets. Readers without proper education of news literacy are more susceptible to fake news.

“There is definitely a lack of news literacy,” Poindexter said. “Having the critical skills to analyze the news and to know what legitimate news looks like, is a skill most consumers do not have.”

The lack of news literacy can not only spread false claims but also hinders people’s trust in the press.

“There are just so many different news outlets and you never know which news is real and which is false,” UT freshman Lindsey Hildebrand said. “It’s just too confusing to follow it all so I don’t.”

While some students may give up on the news altogether, others view it as a challenge they are not afraid to take on and help others overcome. UT senior Nicholas Cobb said he verifies all his social media news with credible, unbiased sources and helps others to do the same.

“Fake news can spread false information like wildfire,” Cobb said. “You have to know how to tell the difference between real and fake news and a good way to start with that is differentiating between what’s opinion and what’s real, unbiased work.”

With the recent 2016 election, credible journalism is imperative now more than ever, according to Tracy Everbach, associate professor at the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism. News media is where most citizens form their political opinion. When information is fabricated or biased, it can greatly impact an election’s outcome.

“With this past election, some problems we’ve gotten into are people putting out information that isn’t accurate or reliable and others believing it,” said Everbach. “When people don’t pay attention and verify their sources on controversial topics, they might end up voting for candidates and regretting that decision later because they weren’t well informed.”

False information can also be utilized to sway voters, said Poindexter.

“Fake news can have an impact on voters,” Poindexter said. WTOE News wrote a “fake news story about the pope endorsing Donald Trump” and it “influenced a lot of potential voters.”

Fake news has also taken its toll on the public’s trust of the press, said Poindexter. Most consumers are not trained to identify a valid news source. Approximately 80 percent of the high school students have an extremely difficult time distinguishing real and fake news according to a study conducted by Stanford University students. Because of this lack of distinction, individuals distrust all news media, said Poindexter.

“I am saddened by the fact that the credibility of the press is at a historic low,” Poindexter said. “The public does not believe the press is credible and with the name-calling of the press by the president of the United States, who would believe us?”

Possible solutions to informing the public on how to identify a reliable news source have been brewing within the journalism community. Everbach said she thinks education could be the key to fixing the problem.

“I am a big believer that we should start introducing current affairs and where to find valid information as early as elementary school,” Everbach said. “It is our responsibility to teach the next generation how important it is in a democracy for people to pay attention to reliable news media and not to buy in to these crazy conspiracy theories.”

But the responsibility of educating the public does not rest solely on the shoulders of the education system, Keven Ann Willey, editorial page editor for Dallas Morning News, said at the Denius Symposium on New Integrity on Oct. 3. Journalists have a responsibility to aid in this dilemma, as well.

“There is a lack of transparency,” Willey said. Journalists need to “lift the curtain and share the process of collecting information. This is how news outlets will establish a record of credibility.”