The term, “fake news,” is one of our latest buzz phrases. It was brought to the forefront of public interest because of its large presence in this last presidential (general) election. Indeed, the near ubiquity of fake news on social media may very well have had some type of influence on the election’s outcome. Considering the prominence of fake news today and its potential impact in our lives, it would be prudent and beneficial to examine the meaning, nature, and effect of fake news in detail.
I think most people would have an interest in knowing more about fake news. Given its association with social media and our last election, it is certain to remain a topical subject for the next few months.
But just what is fake news? The most recognizable forms of fake news are the satirical ones. TV shows as NBC’s Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and websites like the Onion purposely skew or make up stories that have the appearance of the news to make people laugh.
However, the fake news we have all been hearing about lately is primarily internet driven and can be an article written or a meme created to mislead viewers into believing whatever it is promoting, often to get clicks as is described by Katherine Schulten and Amanda Christy Brown’s New York Times Article, “Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News.”
If anything, we are at just the beginning of a long debate over fake news. Just last week, our newly inaugurated president accused the New York Times and negative poll results of being fake news. Less than three weeks into his presidency and he’s drawn his line in the sand. We will certainly be hearing more of fake news and it is going to become necessary to learn how to recognize and understand just what fake news is.
Fake news can have dangerous consequences. At the beginning of last December (2016), a 28-year-old man (Edgar Welch) drove up from North Carolina to Washington DC. His intention was to go to the Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria. He had read online that children Hillary Clinton had hidden children she was sex trafficking there and was on his way to make sure any children concealed there were freed. He brought guns with him and made some shots when he entered the pizzeria. No one was killed or injured. And no sex traffic children were found sequestered in the non-existent basement of the restaurant.
Fake news has worldwide reach and recognition of the potentially serious repercussions of fake news isn’t restricted solely to this country and its political process. February 1, 2017, the New York Times published an article informing readers that at the beginning of this month (February 2017), the chief Muslim clerical council of Indonesia, the Ulema Council, announced it will be issuing a fatwa regarding the spread of fake news. The council is troubled that fake news is stoking ethnic and religious conflicts in the region. According to the article, Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population (by country) and one of the highest number of social media users. Maaruf Amin, chairman of the council, states that the edict would be issued soon as the matter is problematic. Although not legally binding, Amin hopes the fatwa would persuade Muslims to steer clear of fake news. It globally affects us all.
I would hope that most everyone would be able to spot fake news. I thought I could. I must admit that I am guilty of “innocently” sharing fake news with my Facebook friends. I have, many times, shared and passed along the meme of a younger Donald Trump with the false quote about the dumb Republican Party.
To prevent becoming unwilling participants in the advancement of fake news, we need to discover and embrace a more refined understanding of it. Just what is fake news? I’ll explore how it’s defined and what it means to different people. How long has fake news been used? We’ll discover if fake news is a fresh phenomenon or if it has been around for a while. Who creates and benefits from fake news and how does it spread so fast? One discussion will investigate who originates and profits from fake news, while another will examine the speed at which fake news can be disseminated. I’m sure that many other equally interesting facets of the fake news phenomenon exist. My analysis of the all pertinent aspects of fake news will be presented through postings here. Please join me in this exploration.