Fake news was prolific during the presidential campaign and led to a chaotic environment. What can journalists do to help restore trust in the stories they tell?
Fake News, Fraud And Knowingly Engaging News has become yet another strategy to convert readers into partisans — and to get them to take actions without thinking. Traditional news reporting has had the goal of neutrality — nothing but the facts. But that is no longer enough for fake news not only ignores the facts but reports falsehoods as facts. It is increasingly clear it also seeks the downfall of professional journalism.
Journalism has already been compromised by related trends: getting the news first has always tempted reporters into giving facts short shrift, basing stories on assumptions or hearsay, extrapolating half-truth, possibility, likelihood, or wishful thinking. Competition to make deadline can compromise reliability — and confidence in the media itself.
Fake news is not mere exaggeration, however. It is the deliberate fabrication of news to appear real in order to get people to believe someone is wrong or has done something wrong. And its goal is wrongly based action. Just as ignoring facts or assuming falsehoods are true can wreck a debate, fake news can wreck a democracy by disrupting democratic discourse.
Journalism however is not debate; it is reporting. It is based on uncovering and communicating facts as carefully as possible. This means giving all positions and all facts possibly relevant. Then it can give an assessment — and what is the likely truth of the matter.
When people are blasted with untrue, unbalanced, and partial news, where there is no fact checking, where only one position is presented, the focus shifts from getting the news right to getting the news out first.
The change from print and broadcast media to web media has increased the incentives to get attention, traffic — and ad-revenue. Often the easiest way to do that is to use shock and surprise. Not the truth. Fact checking, balancing positions reported, evaluating relevancy, accuracy, and alternatives all take time. On the Internet the truth is always the first casualty in the attempt to be the first and the fastest. Confirming first-hand whether those stories are true becomes too little too late.
This is why social media channels foster fake news foremost. Why? Because the social media up to now made a virtue out of refusing to edit or check. Social media have conveniently pretended they are impartial. They might have been passive parties up to now but their major role in facilitating the widespread distribution of fake news demonstrates the heavy social cost this has generated: division and distrust, plus the disintegration and disappearance of dialogue. They have been part and party to allowing rumor, calumny, and rampant falsehood to take over their platform. Like a mile-a-minute grapevine it has taken root in, spread throughout, and taken over the net like the invasive species of miscommunication it is. Fake news serves only one master — and produces only one kind of offspring: partisanship — dividing the public into partisans.
The parting President Barack Obama warned of the dangers of uncontrolled partisanship. It had destroyed the body politics’ ability to consider and pass legislation. Name-calling and party line politics immobilized government for nearly a decade — the decade in which our communications networks first replaced print and broadcast media and then spawned the social network.
[This partisan divide is easy to detect if looked carefully and deeply. The very phrase fake-news has inhibited in our lives and stirred online especially, on free social media platforms during election campaigns. These people who read and spread the kind of false political stories must either be too dumb to realize they’re being duped or too dishonest to care that they’re spreading lies.]
This fake-news phenomenon’s repercussions go far beyond stories shared thus far on platforms like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter. The first casualty was America’s faith in government and in its ability to function. Far greater disasters loom as America’s enemies — and friends — wake to the fact that the barn door is wide open: fake news and false stories can be planted not only by Russian, Iran, and North Korea but by allies pushing a point, corporations taking advantage, and criminals exploiting this enormous weakness and opportunity.
In the meantime, partisan bias fuels the fire fake-news because this media forest has no firefighters. Print and broadcast media have journalists, trained in telling a story truthfully. Journalism has traditions, and carefully worked out techniques such as fact checking, to keep the fight fair. The downside of this century of professionalism, of growth from yellow journalism to giants such as the Times, the Post, and the Guardian, is that people are accustomed to assuming that anything in the media is balanced, checked, and fair — not fake. We’ve trained generations of professionals to develop and execute these skills with care. It’s no wonder that the partisans of politics first attack journalists — for they are our only defenders of the truth. This is not the first time we’ve had to fight lies, deceit, and misinformation. Journalism is the only medicine against the virus of fake news — and the battle must move now from print and broadcasting onto the plains of social media, not to mention virtual and augmented reality.
Let’s analyze a social media platform, say, Facebook, the evidence of it is in the trending section that keeps getting hoaxed. It spills fake posts that go viral and land in this trending section, and then traditional media picks up those fake news as true, in view to be the one to break news faster than the other media houses.
The Facebook pages that were clearly high on spreading this kind of news were clearly sighted on trending section amassing huge likes, comments and shares. Among those famous are Conservative 101, American News, Proud Patriots, and Proud to be conservative.
After a huge controversy, Facebook did acknowledge it was a fake. This happened when The Washington Post debunked the fake report, which got a lot of reactions and shares.
While, studies have found out that disinformation and cheesy news spreads faster and wider. Wider reach of posts helps these social media platforms to generate huge ad-revenue, which is their key business model. The trending section needs to be verified now and then by fact-checkers to maintain a standard.
According to Nieman Lab report, Facebook, Twitter, and 30 other organizations have joined First Draft’s Partner Network to help stop the fake news. This can help flag people who are spreading it though the Pew Research Center reports widespread sharing of fake political news. This can help flag people who are spreading news and keep a thorough check on these platforms.
According to Pew Research Center, every other American acknowledged sharing fake-news political news. The study by them also shows that fake-news is a bipartisan concern. These fake-news stories benefited Donald trump than Hilary Clinton.
Media houses act as a watchdog and fourth pillar. Now with rise of these fake news phenomenons, there has ben a demand and a rise in fact-checking platforms like Snopes. Social media houses have now partnered with First Draft’s Partner Network and fact-checking platforms like Snopes.
Journalists face huge challenges ahead. We’ll have less time to research, check and report a story. Channels of communication are multiplying. Broadcast gets replaced by cable gets replaced by a proliferation of packaged channels. Journalists need training in the new information technologies. News consumers need to be informed of the phases a story has to go through before it goes public. Source checking, fact checking, and style used all need scrutiny. The trend to push narrative over facts needs to be questioned.
We need to understand the diversity and the multiplying mindsets of consumers. The era of just report and let people have their own opinion if over. Diversity in those staffing media and newsrooms is desperately needed. We’ve discovered that professionalism can result in people brought up with same ideology, narrow worldwide, and similar assumptions — starkly different from an increasingly diverse society. We need to team up with social media and be alert in an era where the pushers of false news will come from all sectors, from all parts of the world. News has evolved from monthly, weekly, daily, hourly cycles to reporting minute by minute. In the face of all this journalism must remake itself — and create new ways to report — 24/7 — truthfully.
How about having an interior watchdog? Who makes sure that the workplace isn’t unfriendly to people who don’t share opinions with their heads.